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

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Friday, July 29, 2005

entry arrow5:22 AM | Nightmare

I have this tendency to shrug away instances of superstition as flaw of character, although in my quiet moments I believe there is a spiritual dimension to this world, a supernatural ether that surrounds us and affects us, although we do not have the eyes to see it. Last night, I was haunted by nightmares again. My bed, if you must know, has a pull-out that has to be manipulated from one side, and the room -- blank wall to one side and a bookshelf wall to the other side perpendicular to the former -- is arranged in such a way that the bed's headboard must face the free space of the room's center. So we always sleep with our feet facing the walls. We have always slept this way, except on rare occasions when we feel bored and decide to shift positions, with our feet now against the headboard, and our heads near the walls. The walls are decorated with a flood of books on the shelves, some paintings and framed photographs, and what-not. Last night, I was haunted by nightmares again. It was a strange dream -- hazy now in my recollection -- of a knife-wielding psychopath terrorizing a family inside a broken-down house. The crucial moment comes when we, in the dream, gingerly open the door, to reveal the face of the mad killer. The killer has my father's face. My father has been dead eight years. That was when I woke up, trembling -- and then a very strong epiphany came to me, unusual for a brain still half asleep. But the realization had an urgency clear as daylight. I nudged M. awake, and I asked him, "Remember when we were sleeping this way before, and you were in this spot where I am sleeping now? You had a bad dream of your teeth falling away." He nodded. Another time, too, when I was in the same position on the bed, I had dreams of demons chasing me. All my nightmares, it struck me, occurred when I was sleeping this way, on this spot. And yet, for all other sleeping positions, I usually have the most inane of dreams -- nothing to be scared about, or to wake with a start from, sweating, and with heart beating fast. Why must we always dream bad dreams once asleep in this same position, on the same spot?

That was when we decided to look up.

Hanging from the wall, right above my head, there was the small dreamcatcher Beth gave me a long time ago. When I took it off its peg, it was dusty and had a musty smell. In my hands, it felt a bit damped, in the wet way mildew attacks. It felt evil. I realized this dreamcatcher was not catching my dreams at all; I felt it was tormenting me and M. instead with visions of gruesome things. Before we went back to sleep, I hurriedly threw it away. I slept off the rest of the early morning with the comfort of dreaming nothing.

Good morning, blog!

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

entry arrow8:06 AM | Anthology

I am editing this anthology of young Filipino fictionists with the beautiful and immensely talented Kit Kwe, and I am flooded with so many beautiful stories that strike me between my eyes; stories like Pearlsha Abubakar's, or Luis Joaquin Katigbak's, or Sarge Lacuesta's, or Janet Villa's, or Dean Alfar's, whose forays into magic realism has the truest tone from that attempted by any Filipino writer. I am always breathless finishing one story after another; it hurts, almost, to begin comprehending all these beauty. Reading the last lines from Dinah Baseleres's "How to Write 30," for example, I am dumbfounded:

The more you think, the lonelier you get. And writers are the deepest thinkers of them all. They grieve more, love more, make infinitely more mistakes simply because they invest everything they can in things they expect too much from. You never win with your heart on the chopping block like that. You learn to stop writing by learning to gloss over what you remember; memory is tricky, always painting bright the off-color, until you no longer can tell biography from fiction.

Everyday you believe more and more that everything else besides writing is not rocket science. Take the easy route. The sooner you write 30, the longer you have to live.

I would like to put to death all those who constantly announce the death of Philippine literature in English. You, sirs, have no salt; you do not know what you are talking about. So shut up, and just read.

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entry arrow7:18 AM | Lament for Good Men

For M.

At 5:30 in the morning, with dew still clinging to the window vines, it is almost too easy to believe that the world outside -- which smells fresh from last night's rain, seemingly ready for another day's hopeful starts -- is a perfect place. No jadedness there, only stirrings of possibilities.

But last night, that wasn't exactly so: how imperfect it had seemed, ruined and scarred with practicalities and the loss of integrity -- and waking up now to prepare for another day at work, I can still hear echoes of last night's heartbreaks.

How, I wonder now, can life's odious realities easily break somebody's heart, in five text messages or even less! How easily it can turn out one more person with vows of doing away with once cherished principles! "Principle...," my dear friend had shook his head, uttering his final refrain in last night's talk, "Principle has never made a person rich, I realize that now." And with a deep breath, he finally said, "It can go... and kiss my ass."

And what did I say to that? I said nothing; after all, one has learned from the sayings of wise men that behind all great fortunes lie great crimes. The road to success is often littered with the debris of principle, shed away by men and women learning, too painfully, the language of the rat race.

It began innocently enough as an encouraging phone call from Manila.

A scout had called this friend; he had seen his pictures in Friendster, and wanted to know if he had some modeling experience. "Yes, I do," my friend said. Some television work, too. But you know how it is: living far off the center of the world called Manila can be a kiss of death to many of our dreams. "But we are very interested in you," the scout said. He went on to say that he was in the process of building a new modeling agency, in partnership with the sons of one of local filmdom's golden couples. He mentioned the names of the couple. Truly an amazing pair; these were two actors who have proven their mettle beyond showbiz's short-attention span. My friend had nothing to lose. He emailed his resume and a bunch of photos he called his portfolio.

It was impressive enough to merit more text messages from the scout in Manila. Given what my friend had in terms of appeal, they would invest in a quick make-over, and he could soon be a "talent." There was even an offer to house him if my friend decided to make the jump and go to the big city of everyone's dreams.

But there was also this question: "Are you gay?"

My friend replied, "What has that got to do with modeling?"

It turns out, plenty.

But let me tell you first about how my friend is.

For someone his age -- and he is only in his very early twenties -- he can shame anyone with a lesser backbone. A self-proclaimed activist with razor-sharp wit and intellect (he is a first-class debater, too), he has been out with his sexuality for the past two years, disdaining those who choose to stay in the closet as the very reasons why gay men like himself cannot seem to forge forward in the careers of their own dreaming.

He hates Piolo Pascual with the gusto of a maddened man. "This faggot," he rants in one of his typical tirades, "is an imbecile. Of course he's gay! And the way he denies it -- complete with that stupid crying session with Boy Abunda on television -- only fuels the stupid paranoid need to stay in the closet!" How he hated it when the actor cried out "I am not gay!" on television, in tones, he said, that signaled derision. "Of course, with denials like that, people are going to discriminate against gay men!" he said. He hates it, too, when people assume he wants to be a woman just because he is gay; hates it when a certain effeminateness is expected of him; hates it when people get confused in the use of proper gender terminologies: for him, "gay," "transgender," "transsexual," "cross-dresser," "gender dysphoria," and such, have distinct meanings, with one not to be confused with another.

I am much older than him, and so much more versed in queer theory, and even I can only give a grudging respect for his crusades. He has the tons of courage I lack.

My friend is also a beautiful man. He is one of those people gifted with the ability of making other people turn and take a second look while he is walking downtown. He also loves the spotlight, and once made it known to me that he has always wanted to model.

This phone call from Manila could be the break he had been looking for.

But there was the question again. Is he gay? "What has that got to do with modeling?" my friend asked.

"Well, my partners are a bit macho kasi. They're a bit homophobic," the reply from Manila came.

My friend took time in his reply. "Well, I know what I can offer as a model. But I am gay. I am not effeminate, if that's what you fear. I am not your regular wild party boy, either, and unless asked, nobody will know that I am gay by the way I look or move. But if your company is too discriminating in that respect, I can only say thanks for considering me. May utak naman ako."

And then there were no replies from Manila anymore.

It was I who once told him never to own up to "anything" while he is still on his way to breaking down the necessary doors for a successful entry to any field he wants. I remember the lesson from Mike Nichols' Working Girls where Melanie Griffith says that while it is expected of everyone who is trying to get to the top to follow the principles of the business ladder, sometimes it is necessary to break some of those just to get there. "Just stay quiet," I told him, "but once you get there, you can then use your clout to break that discriminating door in."

And yet, my friend would have none of that. He said he needed to be accepted the way he was: a gay man with so much talent his sexuality shouldn't even count as a hiring factor, in an ideal world. Once a famous film director -- also a gay man -- offered to help him in show business, but gave specific instructions with regards sticking to being "straight" when asked about his sexuality. My friend right then and there stopped correspondence with that director, and said, "I don't want to be another friggin' Piolo Pascual!"

But how many dreams can you sacrifice in the name of principle?

Last night was the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak. With barely concealed sadness, he finally said, almost in a whisper, "I really wanted that modeling job."

We did not speak for a long time.

And then he said, still softly, "There are times when I hate being gay. It's so tiring being judged all the time, for the wrong reasons."

That was the moment when he slowly made that pact about letting go of principles. "My uncle had the strongest of principles," he said, "and he died a pauper."

And I, too, realized the same thing about my father: how he fought to steer right into the clean path, but how his more wily colleagues got the promotions, the better lives. My father died a broken man, too.

And now another day begins, but with the coming light, I can only hear the dirge of good men's spirits succumbing to the dark practicalities of a moral world without soul.

Good luck, my dearest friend, in the pursuit of dreams. Someday, I swear... someday the world will be a better place.


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Saturday, July 23, 2005

entry arrow3:33 PM | Which Famous Modern American Poet Are You?

You are Wallace Stevens

You are Wallace Stevens. You love everything, especially the sound of things. Too bad you are so obscure that at times even you don't understand what the hell you have written.

Which Famous Modern American Poet Are You?
Brought to you by Quizilla

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Friday, July 22, 2005

entry arrow8:06 AM | The Boredom Mirror

"Like beauty, boredom is also in the eye of the beholder," writes The New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis. Oh my God. That is so true. How one considers something "boring" may be more a reflection of individual character (often flawed), and far from being a true indictment of the material itself.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

entry arrow7:08 PM | To Compensate For the Blogging Downtime Because I Have Deadly Deadlines to Beat and a Conference in Cebu to Prepare For...

... I am posting this essay I once wrote for Graduate School, tackling the theme of Filipino identity and nationalism in the teaching of Philippine literature. It's very long, so that should occupy all the recent dead space. I'm not sure I still agree with all the things I said here, but hey, someone once said that only morons believe in the things they believed in years ago.


In her essay "Literature, Nationalism, and the Problem of Consciousness," the writer/critic Caroline S. Hau delineated the nationalist agenda in the teaching of Philippine literature, where she also problematized the concept of nation or a nationalist consciousness within such a project. For this, we also remember that the critic Benedict Anderson defined this sense of "nation-ness" as an imagined political community -- and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.

Given this, I often challenge myself, as a teacher of Philippine literature in college, with this provocation: how do I provide a rationale for a reading program in Philippine literature in English for college students, considering that such a program does not only transform consciousness but also constitute to such a consciousness?

It is difficult to provide a rationale for something you do not yourself believe in. So I often, in the preparation of my syllabus, choose to sidestep that notion. I will try to explain this disbelief in some detail, and try to put in specific what can be done instead in the teaching of a course entitled Philippine Literature in English.

In Hau's article, she posits that "literature is utilized strategically in the formation of an educated, ‘model' citizen-subject who aids in the transformation of his or her society." This is true. In no other media has it proven easier to mediate a certain evolution in the way society thinks and acts than through literature and reading. I once read somewhere that the Philippines is a country invented by writers -- like Rizal and his ilk, and I would like to prove this point by reaching out beyond this talk of Philippinism and nationalism by taking in an example from queer literature. It goes without saying that the queer identity today, if improved in the way society has somehow accepted it (e.g., the success of such shows as Will and Grace on TV should alert us to that change in public mood about homosexuality), is still under fire from the conservative (and mainstream) heterosexual society.

In the groundbreaking Am I Blue?, a one-of-a-kind anthology of queer writing for gay and lesbian young adults, editor Marion Dane Bauer writes of a society that is silently falling apart from prejudice: "One out of ten teenagers attempts suicide. One out of three of those does so because of concern about being homosexual. That means that in every statistical classroom across the country there is one young person in danger of dying for lack of information and support concerning his or her sexuality...."

In literature, through the anthology, Bauer hopes to contribute to the process of erasing that prejudice and that statistic. She writes further: "A good friend of mine once said, ‘I have never met a bigot who was a reader as a child,' and it is something I believe as well. The power of fiction is that it gives us, as readers, the opportunity to move inside another human being, to look out through that person's eyes, hear with her ears, think with his thoughts, feel with her feelings. It is the only form of art which can accomplish that feat so deeply, so completely. And thus it is the perfect bridge for helping us come to know the other -- the other inside as well as outside ourselves."

The power of fiction then lies in the fact that they are blueprints of an "engineered" behavior, so to speak; its effectivity also lies in the fact that it provides easy accessibility for anyone to try on that blueprint, perhaps embody it in an aural sense -- and if it is particularly very convincing, be changed ultimately by it. Such is the power of the written word that we have forgotten that many events in world history have been jumpstarted because of it. There are, of course, at the outset, Rizal's novels. But we can immediately think of others. It is interesting for one to think of the Second World War as having essentially begun with the publication of Hitler's Mein Kamf -- and when its horror ended, it ended with the more triumphant Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank. There are others: Karl Marx's Das Kapital, Mao's Little Red Book, Douglas Coupland's Generation X, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate coverage for the Washington Post, the Bible, the Koran, and so on and so forth.

Hau, however, takes this notion and gives us an account of how government has used this power to perpetuate a certain idea -- if to perpetuate itself in power. She writes: "This essay examines the role played by education in producing the 'Filipino' national subject of thought and action. It looks into the educational policies and mechanisms by which the post-colonial Philippine state linked the idea and practice of reading literature to the formation of the national subject. It seeks to contextualize the intimate relationship between literature and nationalism by examining in some detail the state efforts to institutionalize the teaching of courses on national heroes and their works. [It] ultimately aims to provide some explanations of the ways in which different and competing conceptions about nationalism in the Philippines treated the idea of granting agency to the newly independent Filipino subject as a theoretical and a practical problem. This agency, I argue, is often conceived as a specific ordering of the relationship between thought and action, and nationalist projects, policies, and practices play an important role in actively organizing such a relationship."

I do not hesitate in agreeing with the above thesis. We know that has been the case -- and unconsciously, we have chosen to imbibe it the moment we knew how to read, and the moment we started to intelligent abstractions in our head. We started, as school kids, memorizing and singing "Lupang Hinirang," and proceeded to compliment that by reciting the "Panatang Makabayan," to be even followed by reciting the preamble of our constitution. For six years, as a student in West City Elementary School, a public school, I have done this every day early in the morning. They were supposedly good for us, to make us better citizens -- and to drive home the point of that "goodness," we punctuated the whole early morning exercise by, in fact, exercising (some would say stretching) to the beat of a commonplace musical cadence, to stay fit. That is how we were conditioned in elementary school: You want to be a good person? Be a good citizen, and stay fit.

In a sense, I understand the purpose. There is a certain fragility in the identity of "Filipino." At best a constructed identity (but, then again, what is not "constructed" these days?), it suffers from a syndrome that can doom its taking root: it is a young identity, arguably only a little more than a hundred years old (or perhaps 200 or 300 -- depending on what theory of history you subscribe to), and it is unmistakably fragmented -- a somewhat careless coagulation of several island cultures which may or may not want to be placed together under the same umbrella. I remember, for example, a TV episode of "Points of View" where a guest from Southern Mindanao was asked the question "Do you consider yourself a Filipino?" His answer: "I am a Muslim."

Noting these then, the government's recourse is to force that common identity if it has to continue to wield power. You cannot, for all likelihood, hold on to power over a people who continue to deny your power, over a people who continue to deny "sameness" among themselves.

And so, beginning even in preparatory school, that fostered sense of nation and identity is heaped on the unsuspecting child. In elementary, we are told to adore Rizal and made to read his mythology (the turtle and the monkey, the moth and the candle, "Sa Aking Mga Kababata," etc.) I remember being so enamored by Rizal as a child that I kept as a treasure a green book entitled Rizal and His Times, which in this particular volume essayed his stay in Dapitan and his travel around the world. I marveled at his genius: I read about his teaching young boys under the shade of a tree (how I longed to be one of those boys! what a wonderful classroom -- so different from my stodgy one!), his constant excursions with his boys in search of flora and fauna (did he really discover another species of toad?), his construction of the bamboo water pipe (ingenious!), his medicine (affecting!), his gift of language, his travel. He seemed god-like, and with his ubiquitous cape, assumed the stance of Superman.

He was everything I wanted to be.

Nobody told me he was a short man, a miser, a womanizer, and barring that, even possibly gay. Nobody told me that the whole cult of Rizal might be a ruse by the Americans to consolidate its colonial power over the Philippines by advocating a national hero who sought, not violence and uprising, but a local kind of "Protestant ethic" and education.

That took care of much of our formative years in elementary and secondary schools. In college, we are taught to put our Rizal reverence to the test by reading -- and perhaps criticizing -- the double bibles of Noli and Fili (which we have already read in sacred manner and in length, in junior year high school -- so the "critical damage" done in college would be minimal), and examining the not-so-perfect-after-all humanity of Rizal. But we have other texts to consolidate more that sense of nationhood once espoused by Rizal -- and these texts, for the most part, belong to the rubric of "Panitikang Filipino" and "Philippine Literature."

It was a CHED-guarantee. We can cite the pertinent passages from Memorandum Order No. 59. This insured a continuity of that subtle "brainwashing," done in the name of patriotism and "love for our own."

What I can do now is to reiterate my disbelief in the identity of Filipino in a world where the Great Filipino dream, according to Jessica Zafra, is "to be an American." The label "Filipino" inherently sounds false. In the one hundred years of trying to cultivate this peculiar nativity, it has yet to really take its root (we even argue which label to use: "Am I a Filipino or a Pilipino?") -- and by virtue of that difficulty, I do not choose to participate in clinging to a tree that can, without warning, topple over. If identity is in limbo, then I am Citizen Limbo. That is more honest. I am, as it happens, just a person who lives in a place collectively called "The Philippines," and for the sake of taxes and paperwork, resignedly appropriate a citizenship called "Filipino." Can I afford to do this? Of course I can: it is a post-postmodern world, after all where absolutes, like identity and sexuality, have been done away. In the recent New York Times Magazine issue, this state of being is called "Fluid" -- where nobody's American or Filipino, black or white, gay or straight.

As a teacher of English literature then, what am I to do?

I start with the reiteration in the disbelief in the concept of "Filipino," despite having to teach a subject called Philippine Literature. I argue that deeper consideration of the words "Philippine" or "Filipino" in the course title bankrupts the goal of being first and foremost, a reader. My sense is this: not to delineate a specificity of Filipino literature in English, but only to highlight a certain marginalized aspect of the greater world literature, to push the unnavigated -- maybe shallow? (I mean "shallow" in the geographical sense, and not in the context of significance and depth) -- parts of a big river. The big river contains dominant species of fish named Shakespeare and Milton and Austen, etc. In the same river, we will try to sample other fish named Joaquin and Tiempo and Bautista. (But, you can say, there are tributaries, or even other rivers: I say the tributaries contain the same water, and often the same fish... and the other river? What other river? There is no other river.)

Again: Philippine Literature as a course is just an invitation to focus on a literature that I will call "from around here." It will not be a practice in instituting absolutes.

The problem with bracketing literatures into independent (as opposed to interpenetrating) essentialisms -- Filipino literature, American literature, gay literature, feminist literature, post-colonial literature -- creates an antagonism of sorts, a Them vs. Us. (Maybe that is why many of us in the world are unhappy, because we always have enemies, unreunitable opposites.) This bracketing might be solved by mere "highlighting," to say that a strain of this or that can be found. But isn't this "highlighting" a bracketing itself? Not really.

Why do our writers write with a didactic sense of nationalism anyway? Rofel Brion, in his "English Lessons: Towards the Aesthetics of the Contemporary Novel in English" speculates on three reasons why our novels are didactic in a nationalistic way. For one, Brion says that Filipino writers cannot help it but virtue of tradition and education. He writes: "One reason may be that Filipino writers cannot but face the didactic tradition in Philippine literature, both in the vernacular and in English. Balagtas and Rizal have been required readings for almost all Philippine schools, colleges and universities for decades. Florante at Laura, Noli Me Tangere, and El Filibusterismo have been translated to English, turned into films and comic books, and considered as models by scores of other writers, including Filipino novelists in English. It is virtually impossible for any educated Filipino ... not to know Balagtas and Rizal, and the nationalism they preach. It should not be surprising then if writers see themselves as instructors of being Filipino."

He also cites NVM Gonzales's call for our literature to have a sense of "social preoccupation," and reiterates that by echoing F. Sionil Jose who once wrote that "Art does not develop in a vacuum; the first artist is responsible not just to his art but to society as well."

Second, Brion "blames" the rules for the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature which specify that, "In the Novel category, the theme is open and free. However, it should depict the Filipino way of life, culture or aspiration...." Azucena Grajo Uranza's Bamboo in the Wind, for example, is a Palanca first prize winner, and Eric Gamalinda's My Sad Republic also won first prize in the Philippine Centennial Literary Contest -- which, obviously, had to tackle the theme of nation as befits any centenary celebration.

Finally, Brion probes even deeper -- and looks at reasons of relevance and readership: "I greatly suspect, though, that Filipino novelists in English very often write about Philippine society and being Filipino, even to the point of preaching about these concerns, on order to be more relevant to the rest of the nation. Their novels, after all, are written in a language not very many Filipinos read as literature. It is common knowledge that the best selling literary works among Filipinos, here and abroad, are written in Filipino -- feature films, short stories, songs, comic books, radio, and television."

For the most, our writers here have been writing without appropriate distance from history -- often they embody it (many were themselves victims of Marcos' martial rule -- and so they write with that enduring theme). What often results is polemic writing.

What do I do specifically as an English teacher teaching Philippine literature then? For the most part I have resorted to the teaching of the course in terms of form: short fiction as found in the Philippines, the novel as found in the Philippines, poetry as found in the Philippines.... It gives me great pleasure to point out the masterful opposition of styles of local masters, as between the "Ginanni Versace bombast" of Nick Joaquin versus the "Calvin Klein minimalism" of Francisco Arcellana. Issues are almost always secondary -- although it does spring so many often in the discussions to facilitate better understanding of the art form: and when they do in my classroom, they do not focus on the definitions of Filipino-ness (because when we do, the discussion suddenly loses focus). They focus, instead, on locating the person(s) in the story in conditions other than his national identity: his sexuality, for instance, or her femininity. In other words, the individual over the collective. The individual is a sure entity by just "being"; the collective, on the other hand, is still being "manufactured." Often, there is no time for us to indulge in that "manufacture."

Are the students aware of "Filipino-ness"? I think they do, and invariably they already know it is not a kind of "definiteness." I think what I do in class is subvert the mandated sense of transforming and constituting a Filipino consciousness through literature, by transforming and constituting another consciousness for my students that there is such a thing as transforming and constituting consciousness. (Whoa.) And that I do not believe in subjecting them further in blatant Filipinism. They can take it or leave it.

What to do with the CHED memorandum? Discard it. It is a just a "suggestion," anyway. What the CHED memorandum accomplishes for the most part, in fact, is to do a careless boundary marking -- a kind of regional literary tourism that mistakes itself for a deep reconsideration for the marginal in the regions.

What I protest about the memorandum are two things: That it has the audacity to create a geopolitics of literature just for the sake of "even and equal" classification and consideration. This leads to old criticisms of regionalism. The arbitrariness can be dangerous. "In this unit, we study literatures from Region Blah-Blah, and representing that region is Writer A and Writer B." It is a patronizing exercise that follows the regionalism concept of a Miss Universe beauty pageant.

It has the audacity to suggest, unconsciously, a certain homogenization of regional conditions (because it will, as the normal procedure of the thing goes): "This is Region VI, this is Region VII..." when, for the most part, a Boholano is vastly different from an Oriental Negrense -- and even a particular Oriental Negrense is different from another Oriental Negrense (My writing is vastly different for example from Bobby Villasis -- but "regionalizing" us together invites an assumption to find a "common aesthetics," like what Brion and countless critics have done to "Filipino literature." I despise being put in a box.)

It also opens the door for mediocrity. What if no writing from a specific region can pass for literature? Do we then force ourselves to consider substandard writing in the name of representation? I am talking in the extreme, of course.

I think what I'm really trying to say, in the long run, is that locating literature in issues is actually important -- all except the issue of nation. It is pedagogic, but most of all, it is futile -- because attempts to define cannot succeed because forced. All one can hope for is "to be."


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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

entry arrow12:37 PM | Do You Want a Horse with That?

But did he use a condom?

[Or, what to post when you have absolutely no time for blogging. Via Bookslut.]


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Monday, July 18, 2005

entry arrow6:28 PM | Papa Ratzi's Avada Kevadra

I wonder why I am not at all surprised.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

entry arrow4:05 PM | Give It to Me, Garci ... Oh, Yeah, Oh Yeah!

You want resignation with that? Sex bomb this!

[via criosdan]

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

entry arrow5:57 AM | Burgis Talk

Any economist will tell you that the simplest way to measure the fiscal health of a nation is to measure the size of its middle class. Is it growing? Is it even existent? That is why I shall take the risk of being damned an elitista -- but what the hey, I am -- and express doubt about such typical Filipino pre-occupation with masa. Reading this in Sassy Lawyer's blog made me cringe, and made me take a deep breath, because it says all the things many of us wants to say, but can't. I'm still not that angry, and I definitely do not want a fascist state, but the whole rant still makes me take pause. Is there a Filipino middle-class ba? I once read somewhere that the problem with the Philippines is that its middle-class lives abroad, leaving only the very elite and the very poor scrambling and in constant war for power, like cockroaches in a dungheap.

Ay naku, will there be any solution to all of our problems?

GMA reeks like bad B.O. Noli looks eternally stupid, like a troglodyte who doesn't know where he is supposed to be. Cory should just shut up, and discipline her daughter first for being such a public slut. The bishops should be forced to only say their masses and stop treating the Philippines like a proverbial theocracy. And that goes the same for all those stupid evangelists with political ambitions. Susan Roces exasperates me with her posturing, and for mistaking a widow's lament for leadership potential. The whole of the opposition stinks to high heaven with its crew of pikon political gangsters and their abilities for shrewd machinations just to grab power. (Pimentel is a sad shell of the great man he once was. Erap should die from heart attack already. Tatad, who loves the Lord so much as he professes, should be taken away by the Lord soon.) All the Cabinet secretaries are liars. And those who resigned and called for GMA to resign are not heroes at all but opportunists.

And I hate all the people I see rallying on TV because I am sure more than half of them voted for GMA anyway.

Oh, what a circus. There's a word for all of these: Kakistocracy. Government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. Add that to your vocabulary, and draw the Filipino.

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Saturday, July 09, 2005

entry arrow6:40 PM | Saturday

I feel nauseous. Which is really a bad way to end an otherwise beautiful and fruitful day. But this must be my body telling me to slow down. (Slow down? My body replies. I don't recognize such timid vocabulary.) To wit: I had a wonderful massage the other day, courtesy of a suki masseuse named Rudyard -- whose Kipling namesake whom we all remember from our childhood reading The Jungle Book and Kim made the whole encounter wonderfully literary. I thought: this is a good start to the weekend. And so it was. I woke up very early today, at half past five in the morning, when the sun was just beginning to peek right through the rain clouds from the night before. Have you ever seen a Saturday morning bathed in dew and the promise of drizzle? It is perfectly relaxing; I was convinced no other mornings could be more beautiful than this. And so it was. There was the languid waking up. There was the cold invigorating shower. There was meditation, and then a bit of morning prayer. There was John Barry's theme for Out of Africa playing on CD. There was freshly-brewed coffee. And by the time nine o'clock came, I was off into the bright but chilly day, to meet my English major, who is studying Philippine literary history with me. In a seaside cafe, we had a good round of discussion -- a review actually -- of the literature of the pre-colonial period down to the post-EDSA period, and I was surprised to find myself becoming quite articulate -- and without notes! -- on the subtle, varied details of everything Philippine literary history, taking note of the astounding scholarship and biases of Lumbera, Abad, Manuel, Fernandez, Bernad, and the rest. Then there was lunch of chicken inato from Jo's. Then there was the brief nap. Then there was the Japanese film Nobody Knows, which I loved for its exquisite handling of pain and abandonment. Then there was work on the fiction anthology Kit and I are collaborating on, and I marveled over the amazing fiction being churned out by the younger generation of Philippine writers. (Naya, I absolutely love "Letter From Marikina"!) And now it's night, and the Saturday dusk seems to be quieter than usual, and I am about to have dinner. And I feel like vomiting.


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Friday, July 08, 2005

entry arrow6:01 PM | Tadtad

I never cared an ounce for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. (I never voted for that imp, er marmoset. I voted for the cancer patient instead -- and other people told me I was crazy. "Roco's gonna die!" they said. Well, look who died first.) But this post is not about the bewildered Malacanang dweller. It's about the new wiretapper in town. I strongly believe now that Kit Tatad is the very personification of evil. Everytime I see this man on TV or in print, I sense it. All that evil. That smirk. That holier-than-thou attitude. All those slimy political machinations. I tell you, Satan's spawn. (Isn't he with Opus Dei?)


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Thursday, July 07, 2005

entry arrow8:00 PM | Where Did We Go Wrong ?

By Carmen Guerrero Nakpil

That is the question that torments Filipinos these days of national malaise. How did we come to this sorry pass?

In 1946, independent at last of America, there were 18 millions of us, recovering from a terrible war and enemy occupation, but full of courage, vigor, determination and optimism, we had a new democratic state with a president, parliament and judiciary and a list of new industries, the envy of Asia.

Today, after 59 years of self-rule, 83 millions are on the brink of despair, pushed there by poverty, corruption, scandal; demoralized, unable to feed ourselves -- or to conduct honest elections, to punish malfeasance, defeat armed dissent, most of us starving and under-educated, many of us refugees and nomads.

From the pile of Sunday newspapers littering my room, I got a bundle of statistics (Jaime N. Soriano, Sunday Times) that gave some answers. Soriano reduced available demographics to a clear profile of the characteristics of 100 Filipinos. And from those stark figures alone, anyone could deduce that we have been badly governed and tragically organized.

The huge jump in population alone, from 18 to 83 millions indicates the sad management of the population issue. Of 100 Filipinos, 61 must support 39, who are either children below 15 or old-age pensioners. But of that labor force of 61, 7 are unemployed, 38 employed locally, 3 in college, 13 working abroad, 12 being unskilled laborers or subsistence farmers and fishermen. Only 5 are managers and only two professionals. Those figures show the failure of the educational system and the uneven distribution of resources.

And yet we have been on our own (despite American benevolence) and for more than half a century, have been making our own laws, plans, policies.

Only 52 of those 100 Filipinos are registered voters, 31 in Luzon, 10 in the Visayas and 11 in Mindanao. But of the registered voters, only 39 cast their votes in 2004. The contested result of that election is what's putting us on the verge of a military coup, an insurrection, presidential resignation or impeachment, doldrums or chaos.

Our use of the free, honest, secret ballot seems to have been unfortunate. Almost all our presidents took the wrong turns. Roxas pushed US military bases and economic exploitation; Magsaysay gave the US State Department and the Pentagon the run of the place. Macapagal dismantled the exchange and import controls that had led to new industries. Marcos damaged our institutions. Aquino foiled land reform. Ramos and Arroyo gave us unprotected globalization, which destroyed industries and jobs. Erap embarrassed us with his lounge-lizard lifestyle.

With some brilliant exceptions, Congress became a carousel of larceny, opportunism and myopia.

The judiciary is weak and suspect. Yet, as a democracy, we chose our own leaders. Did we choose those who were and are most like us?

In his column, Soriano suggests that at least part of the blame for the situation must be laid at the door of the Christian churches. There are 83 Catholics and 9 Christians out of every 100 Filipinos.

For the last five centuries their faith has been Christianity which condemns all the forms of corruption we have been practicing: cheating, deception, sloth, gluttony, pride, and lust.

The crimes the governments have been accused of go directly against the Ten Commandments of Christianity.

How have we sunk so low in morality, after half a millennium of Christ's teachings? What have all those priests and clerics been doing all this time? Perhaps the reason is that we Filipinos do not do what our betters say, but what they do.

Being mimetic, we, we learn best by following good examples. Maybe those loquacious bishops and well-cossetted parish priests should preach by example?

For whatever reason, all those tragic figures of stupidity and unpatriotic behavior are things we have done to ourselves.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

entry arrow3:34 PM | The Pupu is Back on the Platter

After months of almost unbearable silence, Ari Ngaseo is back with more historical goodies in Pupuplatter!

(And no, it's not a slasher blog about Nazi babies.) The thing about Pupuplatter that I love the most is that it may be the most intelligent blog in the world that tackles -- not the mundance topics of one's everyday life (read: my blog) -- but, get ready for this, Philippine history and culture. And Ari does it so well, that the whole effort often verges on the sexy. Brain-sexy. My favorite Philippine history teacher in college was Earl Jude Cleope who knew how to spin an absorbing tale. His lectures were never dry takes on the exasperating minutae of Philippine history, but were almost like gossip about people we knew. He made Lapu-lapu and Magellan and Rizal and Aquino stand out like they were still alive, like they were as breathless as our voyeuristic concern over Brad and Angelina. (I am thus forever grateful to Mr. Cleope for this, for making me become extraordinarily fascinated with history.) It is the same with Ari's blog. You get pulled in by the passion he has for history and Philippine social life. Thanks, Ari, for your blog, and welcome back. Your return is highly appreciated.

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entry arrow2:57 PM | Autobiography

For G.

Somewhere, my sundial woman and prophetess gets her heart broken. She speaks of it as a bewildering thing, because she has spoken not too long ago about "moving on," of "closing chapters," of living, finally, because she must. And yet, just like that, a glimpse of him one slow night unravels all that she is, and perhaps all that we are as well. I say "we" because hers is also our own collective autobiography. This is a story that we all know: the messy fact and quirky nuances of loving and leaving, and although the details from each of our lives may differ in hues and textures, the hearts of everyone of us remain the same muscle that know the same music. All of us know that we often seek the whole of the universe for that formula of consolation to our common pains -- and often, we do find it, or a semblance of it, in carefully cultivated changes of perceptions we foster to massage our weary souls. In the end, what we can know for sure is that no one can say anything really to a once broken heart, because the usual soft words to cushion the blows that go deep -- "This, too, shall pass," for example -- have become too trite they have long ago lost their meaning. Finally, it seems that only silence, and perhaps an offer of a hand to touch and calm her trembling, will be the only necessary vocabulary to ease pain. Soon she tells me without even saying anything that such silences may be enough. I now believe it is largely a myth to say things do pass on. Because things like pain certainly do not pass. They are not like signposts on the road that you can easily pass hurriedly by to get to that place in the distance that promises a kind of comfort. In truth, I tell her, we only just learn to live with the unexpected reservoir of pain or memory, and all that we can ever really wish each other is grace. To live out the turbulences of all our lives with grace, and to hope we can actually carry through -- that is more than we can do.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

entry arrow11:16 AM | The Disappeared, Part Two

Dear Naya, Gelo, Kit, Peachy, Easy, Rome, Carlomar, Edgar, and Niccolo. And maybe even Marie, because she's thinking about it. Here's something you might be missing out on. Read it. Absorb it. And please don't go away.



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Monday, July 04, 2005

entry arrow9:56 PM | Putting the Last Period to the Rocking Horse Violin Man

I just finished my entry for the Canvas Storywriting Contest, which aims to generate a winning children's story using this painting by Elmer Borlongan. I don't care if my story wins or loses, but I like the fact that I was able to write something I'm satisfied with at a virtual drop of the hat, and with a very challenging prompt, too. (How do you write a good children's story about a violin man on a rocking horse?) As Dean once said, joining writing contests keeps you on your toes, and helps make you become less complacent about writing. It may be the crudest form of motivation, but it's better than merely pontificating about the writing life, but not writing anything at all. (Dean once posted in his blog about Palanca naysayers, whom, in so many words, he calls sour losers who don't know what they are saying. I agree, Dean, I agree.) The whole afternoon writing the story was something quite extraordinary. I came home from work at around 4 o'clock, determined to start and finish a story, any story. I've been jealous of Kit Kwe's amazing writing streak of late. She's been churning out story after story for the past two months, and I texted her that I wanted to do the same. And I guess I did, at least for today. I've never done anything of this sort before. My stories usually take weeks just germinating in my head, and many more weeks to actually get punched into my computer. Writing has always been a slow process -- and last year, I wrote nothing at all. This year, though, I've finished four stories so far, which for me is an accomplishment. The Canvas deadline is still August 15, more than a month away, but knowing me, I'll probably take more time revising the story than in actually writing it. But it's better to work with something already there, than to work with nothing at all, eh?

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entry arrow11:47 AM | The Disappeared

Where, O Haloscan, art thou? I'm asking my techie angel, Clee, to have a look-see. The usual pitfalls of html tweaking ... But what can I do? I easily get bored with the look of my blog, and I have a compulsion to keep changing it. On another front, I'm well again. I think. And people I know keep disappearing from blogosphere, too. Where's Naya, for example? And Gelo? Where's Peachy? And Kit? And Carlomar? And Easy? And Rome? And Niccolo? Where, like mayas, do blogs go to die?

Update. Clee says my new template is not compatible with the Haloscan code. That's why it's playing hide and seek with me. Ayayayay. Oh, well. There goes the comments. And no one can force me to change this template, at least for the next three months. Then again, there's always Tagboard, yes? Just scroll down and drop me a line.

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Saturday, July 02, 2005

entry arrow12:05 AM | Little Complaints

There is a gnawing inside me to rant. Perhaps because the end of June has come, and with it, we have finally come to the middle part of our year. If life must be defined by the span of each year, then the end of June is that doldrums of days when we start to hesitantly consider the sobering realities of our lives, mid-range. Think about it: the end of June is already so far from the wishful resolutions made at the beginning of year, and yet it is also the start in our approach to another year's end. In June's end, we all finally take pause, and ask ourselves, how does this life go?

Sometimes, for most of us, the answer is in the exasperating middlingness of the "so-so."

"I'm coping," we say, as if in the defensive -- and then, when we finally take in all the news of the day, we seem to quietly surrender to a kind of despair.

And so we rant. Often silently.

We rant about the rain and the tracks of mud we leave with each of our steps. The days are cold, and the nights even more so. What better way to spend the cold days than to let off steam? There are reasons to rant, hundreds of them. Often without the slightest warning, for example, the lights around the city go off, just like that. Brownouts have become a way of life. But what probably frightens us more is the fact that we don't seem to care so much anymore.

"There goes NORECO again," we all say with the gravest of sighs. Of course we curse ("Pesteng NORECO!"), and then we go on to take pity for our appliances gritting through the changes of electricity running and then suddenly being clamped down. "Doesn't that do damage to our appliances?" I remember asking my brother once.

"Of course it does," he said. "Wreaks havoc on our electric bills, too."

But all we can do is rant, because we know nothing will ever change. The brownouts will not go away, we know. This is a fact of Dumaguete life. The way our Sundays come to a standstill, serenaded by motorized generators all over downtown, because of NORECO's "scheduled maintenance." The way that we also know it takes approximately two hours of endless waiting just to pay our bills in the crowded NORECO office, seeing only five or six clerks handling the Dumaguete hordes in the hundreds. The way we also look up from our sidewalks and see the snakes of electric wirings fattening and growing ever more complex as they hung -- like the bad eye sores that they are -- from one tottering street pole to another. "Why can't they bury the electric wires underground, like other cities do?" I asked the same brother once more.

"Dream on, kiddo," he said.

And we rant on.

For this weekend, I must tell you that there are enough posts in this blog about fathers and mothers and books and music and food. I was beginning to sound like Martha Stewart. I've found that what is generally more enjoyable to write, and also read, are the occasional ranting on sundry topics. Like pedicab drivers who have really bad B.O., or who charge too much. (Attention, authorities: please take note of these pedicab numbers -- 2213 and 0579.) Topics like the culture of brownouts. Like bad restaurants, and a pigsty of a movie house.

Like the state of correct grammar in the world.

Consider, for example, the picture below.

It is a shot taken with a Motorola camera phone of the display window of Lee Super Plaza, which for the month of June celebrates the opening of classes, complete with commercial enticements for the annual shopping orgy for school materials and the like.

But perhaps the Lee Super Plaza show window is also indicative of the bad state of education we have right now in the country. Look closely and observe the sign. It says: "YOU'R SCHOOL YEAR STARTS HERE! SHOP NOW!" (The emphasis is mine.) And we can only laugh so hard -- but also commiserate privately perhaps -- at the irony, at the absurdity of it all. Here we have a show window that celebrates schools and education -- and does the celebrating with a misplaced hyphen and a misspelling so gross, I'm not sure the artist and the sign maker even passed elementary school.

What has happened to our sense of language? Mangled, like the rest of our lives. Sometimes, too, I quietly laugh every time I go to Wishy Washy at the corner of Amigo to have my laundry done. Don't get me wrong. I love Wishy Washy. The service is fine, and the attendants are quite accommodating and friendly. You see, I used to patronize this other laundry shop downtown, near Silliman. But once, a long time ago, I returned to get my laundry at the day and hour marked on my claim stub -- and was told, with surprising rudeness, by the attendant that my clothes have yet to be washed, and that I should wait, and that I was not paying them anyway for overtime. It was quite a mouthful from this Chinese-looking woman-attendant, and all of these without me uttering a single word except to ask if my clothes were ready.

Perhaps she is harried and tired, I reasoned. But when she complained some more, I finally told myself, Heck, I didn't patronize your business to be rudely told off.

The next week, I had my laundry done instead in Wishy Washy -- a very good change, and yet, while once eating the tasty chocolate they sell at the adjacent Tsokolate bakeshop, I amused myself with wondering: Did the owner even know that "wishy-washy" means "cowardly hesitation" or "exasperating indecisiveness"? Perhaps, I reasoned, the owner just liked the musical alliteration of the term, as well as the immediate connect between the word "wash" and the nature of the business. Who knows, really?

And who cares anyway? I still get my laundry fast, and the attendants have become good acquaintances. Which is more than I can say about other services, no matter how Brightly they may promise to Wash your laundry.

And which is also more than I can say about this "venerable" footwear store, which, phoenix-like, had risen from a kind of ashes, and now has this swanky newish branch in one of our "malls." Last summer, a friend of mine bought a pair of black sandals worth about P250 from the store. I liked the look of the footwear, and so I went with my friend to buy myself a pair as well, with the assurance from the giddy salespeople that it was a very sturdy brand.

Less than three days later, I was back in the store with the soles of the sandals coming completely unglued. Funny thing was, I had barely used them at all. What's more, the store couldn't say it was damage from too much wear, because my friend eventually came back the next day with the same problem. The store took back our shoes with the promise to repair them. They did reglue the soles, but less than a week later, the toe straps had come off, for both our pairs.

Again we marched back to the shoe store -- but this time, they wouldn't budge. We threatened a visit to the local Department of Trade and Industry, to which they finally recapitulated with an offer of two brand new pairs of the same sandals. "But what if the same problem will happen again?" we asked.

"Then that's your problem na," the salesgirl -- now grown snotty -- said.

We sighed, and took the replacement sandals.

And exactly four days later, the soles came off.

I told my friend I had enough of my Foot being Stepped on by stupid retailers, and off we went to the smalltime "footwear specialists" crowding a corner of Real Street in front of the public market. For less than forty pesos per pair, they repaired the sandals for us.

And guess what? We're still wearing them. Talk about the sturdiness of masa service.


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Friday, July 01, 2005

entry arrow6:47 PM | Like Mint

I wanted a new look so badly. The whole fall thing -- while I love that season like skin gently caressing the softest mink -- was just too dark and forbidding for comfort, and the darkening trees actually reminded me more of the beginning of The Silence of the Lambs rather than an autumn in New York scene in a perfect Woody Allen movie. The look simply had to go. I wanted something fresher, like mint. Something more optimistic, lighter. I thought of green. I also thought of suns and sunflowers -- but this design direction did not pan out. Thanks to Ebedgert, I finally had something that I think will give this blog a much-needed facelift for the coming months. And after a whole afternoon tweaking the downloaded skin from Blogskin to suit my taste (tweaking html codes can be the absolute torture), here is the finished product, finally. As Audrey Hepburn would say, "How do I look?"

Tell me I look fetching.


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