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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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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

entry arrow9:55 PM | NVM Gonzalez Award Now Open

The 6th NVM Gonzalez Awards is now open to all Filipino writers for the Best Short Story of the Year in English published from November 2004 to September 30, 2005; and the Best Essay of the Year in English or Filipino, published or unpublished, which deals with the life situation of the Filipino. The Best Short Story carries the grand prize of P50,000.00 while the Best Essay of the Year garners a P20,000 prize for both English and Filipino. The deadline for submission is on October 15, 2005.

The essay category is new. It is open to any high school or college student whose entry is accompanied by a certification by the head of his/her English/Filipino Department (or equivalent academic department) as to the authorship of the essay and the bona fide status of the author (as a student) of his/her school. The essay should be at least seven (7) but not more than ten (10) pages, double-spaced, typed or computer-printed.

Neither story no essay that has already won in a national contest will be considered by the judges, whose decision shall be final. Six (6) copies of the story and/or essay (including, for the story, its original published form) should be submitted under a pseudonym, together with a sealed envelope containing both pseudonym and author's real name and short profile, to:

NVM Gonzalez Awards
P-57 A. Mabini Street, Area 1
UP Diliman, Quezon City 1101

The ceremonies for the Awards will be held toward the end of November. For inquiries, e-mail at nvmink@yahoo.com.


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Sunday, August 28, 2005

entry arrow8:16 PM | New, Temporary

So here's a new look, because the old skin just couldn't handle, despite endless tweakings, the Java script required for Haloscan. And a blog needs its comments from friends, right?

It's temporary though. Still searching for that definitive look. But this one was easy enough to upload and tweak. (That's me and Mark during my birthday last August 17, by the way.)


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entry arrow12:16 PM | LaGuardia's the Bigger Brother

Ahahahaha! I knew this was going to happen sooner than later. But what did they expect naman? This entirely virginal (kuno) country will never see the likes of other Big Brother versions in other countries where live sexual escapades and steamy dialogue are not only the norm, they are the very reasons why people tune in. A wholesome Big Brother? Can you say oxymoron?


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Saturday, August 27, 2005

entry arrow10:30 PM | A Tragedy of Chickens

Part Two

He certainly was in love. He had never met a woman as beautiful for him as Ana. It was not that she was perfection of alabaster skin and the face of a diwata. She was rather dark -- her skin, although smooth, was the color of light chocolate. She was also short, but she seemed taller beyond her petite frame because she took care not to stoop. She always walked with her back straight, and head held high -- and for that, she was considered a pariah by most of her peers who thought she was arrogant "when she is just a common wench," they'd say, "a waitress in a chicken restaurant!" That these words hurt did not actually matter to her because she had been through worse. She had been called various things all her life: a gold-digger, for one, and also a "common whore," even if she was still a virgin at 19. Also "manokon," because her eyes, although perfectly almond-shaped, had one iris that slightly strayed off to the middle. It was not very obvious, of course; and for many of her acquaintances, it took quite a few meetings for them to be more certain what it was about her that unsettled them. It was certainly not her soft voice, nor the way she walked around with her head held high. It was not her thin lips, nor her breasts that juggled like tiny melons upon her small frame. It was not that she wore no make-up on most days either, like the rest of the Jo's Manok Inato girls. But when they would at last stare right into her eyes during rare moments when she would frankly regard them with the curiosity of a hen for a worm, there it was, all too suddenly: the left eye slightly askew, at once looking at them and not looking at them. It was always an uncomfortable discovery.

Ana would not wear make-up, like her sisters back home in Guihulngan town insisted they all should, and so her lips had none of the artificial thickness of rouge, and her cheeks none of the sheen of foundation. What made her distinctive from the rest of the brood was the long, black hair she kept untied; it fell around her shoulders like a cascade. That hair had always been the source of envy by her older sisters who also thought her catty and snobbish because she would not indulge in their games and gossip, nor join in their common obsession of the radio dramas that made them weep, or cry in terror. "Ang baktin nga ga-daster!" they'd shriek in horror, and laugh out loud in their company of small joys.

When she was growing up, Ana knew she had to escape from all these smallness. Her parents were poor. Her father repaired shoes and umbrellas, and her mother had a small stall at the local tsiangge where she sold everything from cigarettes to candies to the little produce she cultivated in her small garden back home: eggs, and some kalamunggay, kangkong, sili, and mangoes when the fruit was in season.

They lived in a small wooden house with thatched roof, which was fairly respectable for the most part -- but it was poor, and all that was there to entertain the sisters was the radio (which was always turned on from sunrise to sundown) and the flirty gossip about the town's abundance of horny brown bucks. Gorio supposedly had the biggest dick in town, or so Criselda and Betchang claimed, giggling like blushing bitches in heat; Manuel had the smallest, and Alvin -- that rogue of a charmer with the sweet, innocent smile -- had deflowered most of Guihulngan's girls behind the convento, where the old willow trees bundled together to create a hiding place of leaves, limbs, and tall grass. But Ana would have none of this type of gossip -- although she knew the Alvin boy quite well, and had once felt a strange quickening in the triangle that spread from her nipples to the delta of her pubis when she had seen him smiling sweetly at her during church service one Sunday morning. It was not that she was moral and believed in the virginal tenets the nuns at school railroaded at them. She, in fact, hated the nuns and their cloistered lives. It was only that she did not want to become pregnant, like many of the girls she knew, and end up becoming bored housewives, trapped in a very small town, with only the radio to while away the rest of their days.

While she planned her escape, she took to her mother's chickens as the best alternative to becoming bored. She had already read all the komiks in the tsiangge's basahan, and she found herself at the edge of surrendering to the radio melodramas of her older sisters. That was when she decided she would feed the chickens one day. "I would like to take over Betchang's chores, Ma," she said, "I'd like to feed the chickens myself."

"Are you sure about that? What about your sister?" her mother said.

"Oh, if she wants it, she can have it," Betchang quickly agreed. Ana's chores, after all, were simple: she wiped the tiny sala clean and washed the dishes after lunch and dinner. This was work, Betchang knew, that best afforded her the best opportunity to follow her radio dramas more faithfully. Feeding chicken was "gawas" work after all, and she hated it -- she'd always cursed the gods under her breath for work she deemed below menial. She hated it when all she could hear of the unfolding drama was a small echo quickly lost in the cackle of the chickens rushing about her legs. Often she had to run to the open window and ask her sisters what was happening next.

The exchange was made. Ana began feeding the chickens, and that day she welcomed the chance to be outside, where the expansive blue of the sky promised more than the sad radio dramas, bouncing off the thin walls of their tiny house, ever could.

There were nine hens in all and three roosters who cackled at the slightest provocation, always managing to rupture the dead quiet of most afternoons with their piercing crows. Among the twelve chickens, there was also the fluttering of yellow and brown chicks, newly hatched and twittering about in their mad dash for Ana's kernels of grain, which she spread about with precision and a touch of generosity. She loved the chickens, after all, and wanted to see them well-fed.

But there was one hen she was most interested in, perhaps because it was the proudest of the lot and always looked straight at her as if Ana was her equal. She called this white leghorn Burgita, because she was also fat and produced the most number of eggs. She would talk to Burgita like she would not to her older sisters.

"I want to get out of Guihulngan soon, you know," she told the hen, who regarded Ana with such interest. Ana offered it grain in her cupped hands, and the chicken slowly picked at the kernels with its tiny, pointed beak, and then looked at her some more.

"Guihulngan is too small, don't you think, Burgita?"

The hen clucked and stared at her. Ana settled down in a squat, and played with the dirt with her fingers. She made wriggles on the ground while the chickens still dashed about her.

"I want something more, you know?" she said. "I want to feel what it's like to be in a bigger place, bigger than Guihulngan -- perhaps Dumaguet, perhaps Manila. But maybe not Manila. It's much too big probably for a small town girl like me. And then, when I'm in Dumaguet, I'd find a man -- a strong man -- who would fall in love with me, and marry me. And then we will have many children, the way you have your many chicks. What do you think, Burgita?"

But Burgita only stared back.

All of a sudden, without even a squawk of a warning, the hen dashed at her and started pecking at her face. It pecked at Ana's askew left eye. Only with quick thinking and reflexes did she manage to shield herself with her arms.

Burgita began to cackle as if she was in the clutch of sudden madness, and pecked violently at her. She pecked at Ana's arms. She pecked at her legs. She pecked at her long hair.

Ana gave a brief, startled shout, and then kicked at the chicken, which bumped into a small kalamunggay tree, and then promptly attacked her once more.

This time, Ana was ready.

When Burgita flapped her white wings and flew at her face, Ana grabbed the chicken from the air. With a practiced movement, she quickly twisted the chicken's neck, and then let it drop.

Like all dead chickens, Burgita ran around the small garden in wild circles, dragging its head -- lying limp on its side -- on the dirt ground.

That night, the family had fried chicken for supper.

The next morning, Ana left town for Dumaguet, and quickly found work at Jo's Manok Inato. She watched the roasting chicken browning in the light, and she thought, Perfect.

To be concluded, with the full story, in next week's issue of Philippines Free Press, in a story titled "A Joy of Chickens"...

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

entry arrow2:26 PM | Holy Assassination, Pat-man!

And people wonder why I -- as a willingly churchless Protestant -- seem to be growing away from organized Christianity by leaps and bounds. No, it's not because of Dan Brown's Da Vince Code. First, there is George W. Bush, the Bible Belt's poster boy for Christian leadership. Then there's Rick Santorum and Trent Lott. Then there is the sudden invasion of Intelligent Design theory into the classrooms. And now this?

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Monday, August 22, 2005

entry arrow10:05 PM | Palanca!

With Updates

Finally, I'm finished with it. I took Dean's challenge (to find time, that is), and finished the unofficial Palanca website, just in time for the latest unveiling of winners come September 1. (And no, contrary to rumors, I did not win a Palanca this year.) My deepest gratitudes go to Ma'am Babes over at the Palanca Foundation office, and Fernando Gonzalez who did the necessary legwork. It took quite a few months, but I decided to crunch everything in during the last three days, just to finally complete this project. It was hard work uploading all those winners from 1951 to 2004. (I missed some lunches and dinners, and a good Sunday.) That's 53 years worth of names, gad. But I'm happy. We have to do what we can to get Philippine literature out there, you know?

As for the complete list of Filipino novels in English which have won the Palanca Grand Prize, here's the definitive list, Dean:

1. Remmie Brillo, Silapulapu and The Zebut Brothers (1980, Special Prize)
2. Francisco Sionil Jose, Mass (1981, Co-Winner)
3. Wilfrido D. Nolledo, Sangria Tomorrow (1981, Co-Winner)
4. Antonio R. Enriquez, Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh (1982)
5. Edilberto K. Tiempo, The Standard Bearer (1983, Special Prize)
6. Wilfrido D. Nolledo , Vaya Con Virgo (1984)
7. Alfred A. Yuson, Great Philippine Jungle Energy Cafe (1987)
8. Azucena Grajo Uranza, Bamboo in the Wind (1990)
9. Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., Killing Time in a Warm Place (1993, Co-Winner)
10. Antonio R. Enriquez, Subanons (1993, Co-Winner)
11. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Recuerdo (1996)
12. Felisa H. Batacan, Smaller and Smaller Circle (1999)
13. Vicente Garcia Groyon III, The Sky Over Dimas (2002)
14. Dean Francis Alfar, Salamanca (2005)

There you go. Good company, indeed, Dean. And congratulations once again! And warmest congratulations, too, to Nikki Alfar (Third Prize, Children's Story), Lakambini Sitoy* (Second Prize, Short Story, and First Prize, Essay), Maryanne Moll (Third Prize, Short Story), Pearlsha Abubakar (Third Prize, Futuristic Fiction), Exie Abola (First Prize, Short Story), Glenn Mas (First Prize, Full-Length Play, and Second Prize, One-Act Play), Raissa Claire Rivera (Second Prize, Children's Story), Naya Valdellon (Second Prize, Poetry), Joel Toledo (First Prize, Poetry), Mookie Katigbak (Third Prize, Poetry), Rosmon Tuazon (First Prize, Tula), Allan Lopez (Third Prize, Full-Length Play), and Eugene Evasco (I don't know which category, pero alam kong nanalo ka ulit!).

That makes Batch 2002 of the Dumaguete Writers Workshop -- with Gelo Suarez (2003 and 2004, Second and Third Prizes for Poetry, respectively), Naya (2004, First Prize for Poetry, and this year's golden win in the Palanca -- plus her 2003 Maningning Miclat Poetry Prize), Mookie, and Maryanne for the Palanca, Allan Pastrana for the 2005 Maningning Miclat Poetry Prize and Peter Mayshle for the 2004 Philippines Free Press Literary Prize Second Place -- the winning-est group of writing fellows of late!

Sa batch ko (2000), ako lang (2002 and 2003, both Second Place for Short Story) and Isolde Amante (2000, Second Place rin for the Short Story) for the Palanca, although Vincenz Serrano gets anthologized a lot (and it's about time this guy gets his Palanca talaga). But the 2003 batch also gives the 2002 batch a run for their prize monies, because there's Kit Kwe (2003, Third Prize for Short Story), Anna Sanchez (2004, Second Prize for Full-Length Play, plus her 2001 First Prize Amelia Lapena Prize for Fiction), Rosmon (2004, Second Prize for Tula, and now this year's Palanca), Carljoe Javier (2005, Third Prize Amelia Lapena Prize for Fiction), and Rolando Salvana (who has won three to five Palancas or so before coming to Dumaguete). In this batch, I'd like to see Mark Cayanan, Vince Coscolluela, and Ken Ishikawa get their due, soon. For batch 2004, Gabby Lee has won Second Prize in the 2005 Amelia Lapena Fiction Prize, John Bengan won the 2004 Philippines Free Press Literary Prize Second Place, and Faye Ilogon her Third Place for the Short Story in Palanca 2001. I have no doubt Hedwig de Leon, Ginny Mata, and the other writers from this batch will make the lists soon.

It's strange. I know all these people, some of them very, very intimately. (Ponder on that.) Got drunk and hammered with them, told the dirtiest jokes, and in one case, even stripped naked during a heady game of spin-the-bottle. And now, mga sikat na sila.

Now, I have to get back to my old grind.

* Bing (who's currently in Denmark traveling and writing for her David Wong fellowship) emailed me a week ago, and said that in Spain, the word "palanca" means a "stiff dick." Hehehe.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

entry arrow12:17 PM | Some Great Sunday Reading

F. Sionil Jose unveils some bitter memories of the war. Rica Bolipata-Santos gives a much-needed jolt for post-high school revenge in an essay about beautiful princes turned toads. Bino A. Realuyo writes beautiful poetry. (But knowing Philippine Star's curious permalink problems, it's best to read the first two at once.)


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Saturday, August 20, 2005

entry arrow11:39 PM | A Tragedy of Chickens

By Ian Rosales Casocot

The day the small town of Dumaguet ran out of chicken, Pedro Murillo was feeling particularly cocky, like the cliche of a man walking on air. For all those who saw him that morning -- an old, bent woman who was almost blind from cataracts; a feline street boy smoking a thin cigarette while ogling the purse of a fat, heavily made-up woman whom he was certain to steal from; and a handsome policeman whose kittenish wife of six months had left him, only the previous day, for a professional sabongero -- there seemed to be a lightness in the way the man strode towards the center of town.

The man, they quickly noticed, was dressed not too immaculately in a red silken collar shirt and a black pair of pantaloons, the hems of which fluttered slightly in the soft but sudden breeze. He did not strike any of them as particularly commanding the way an army general or a film star would, and in truth they even found him a little disheveled, and scruffy-looking. But he walked with such presence, an uncomfortable gravity that pulled the nearest attention like a black collapsing star. For that, they were certainly sure he was walking on air. He seemed, in fact, to glide, but of course that was impossible, they quickly thought. For how could anyone glide through the air? They quietly admonished themselves, thinking that growing blindness, petty crime, and love lost certainly made illusions happen. The old woman, for instance, only yesterday mistook a chicken leg for her dead husband, and had refused to eat all day. And then that same night, she thought she saw the entire world with profound lightness that she could see everything. The delinquent, on the other hand, had often gone hungry that there were days he clucked like a mad man, and only the germ-laden fill of pagpag inasal could calm his aching belly -- which would be perfectly all right if it were not for the taunting delusions he had of fat women suddenly feeding him, with ferocious love, a wealth of meat to his ready mouth. Lastly, the young policeman, hen-pecked to the very day his wife left him, had been daydreaming ways to wring her unfaithful neck as if she were some soft spring chicken, and then making love to her in an abandon of forgiveness.

There were always visions of ghosts and murder. And now there was this specter of a gliding man in red silk shirt! The world, the three of them felt -- a silent camaraderie suddenly falling between strangers on the street -- the world was surely laughing at them.

The world crowed with utter ridiculousness.

Yet they would also quickly forget him the moment Pedro walked past them. Each one, in the instance of seconds, went back to the vagaries of their own lives -- there was a dimming vision to mourn for, there was a purse to steal, and there was a bleeding heart to tend -- but when the same startling news came by day's end, they would all somehow think of this man for apparently no real reasons except that they remembered he glided.

The bulletin came with the local news dressed up as a human interest story: apparently, there were no more chickens left to butcher and eat in Dumaguet town. Feathers and all, they had disappeared. Just like that. The television anchor only laughed at the bizarre story. "For how could any small town lose all its chickens at once?" he asked, and everybody who watched him laughed, too. People sometimes laugh before tragedies of chickens strike, the old woman, the street boy, and the policeman would think at roughly the same time, suddenly uncomfortable with the secret knowledge, and knowing somehow that the man in the red silk shirt had something to do with it.

In truth, the man in the red silk shirt had nothing to do with anything. His only crime, perhaps, was in falling in love so recklessly and perhaps in liking too much the taste of manok inato.

Nearing the center of town, the man who would be affected most of all by the coming turn of events continued to walk like a cock. There was good reason to the manly spring in Pedro Murillo's steps: only a few minutes earlier, before he sauntered into the bright sunlight from an inconspicuous apartment shaded by the lone acacia tree along Avenida Sta. Catalina, he had finally -- at the unforgivably virginal age of thirty-three -- managed to make love to a woman.

And not just any woman. It was the beautiful girl who once waited on him in the city's most popular chicken restaurant off Hibbard Avenue. She had waited on him for some more months -- six months to be precise -- before succumbing to the desire that burned too brightly in his eyes.

It was perhaps that startling sense of passion that made the surrender to the man perfectly understandable, for Pedro Murillo was not a handsome man. He was rather plain: an ordinary nose squatted on the center of his face, and underneath that slightly bulbous protrusion, there was a stretch of thick lips that rarely smiled. There were days when he could say in front of a mirror that he had the countenance of a blank wall, and sometimes the thought amused him. Often, it was only an irritable acknowledgment of his shortcomings, because this one rendered him strangely invisible. People sometimes could not see him. "But how could that be?" he once asked his mother, who died soon after from a freak outbreak of a deadly strain of chicken pox in Dumaguet, which disappeared as quickly as it manifested itself. (Sometimes Pedro thought it only appeared to take away his mother's life, for which he was eternally grateful.) "How can anyone ever be invisible to the naked eye?" he asked.

But even his own mother did not say anything. She only looked past him, like he was not there, and then barked like a dog. Or crowed like a chicken? He wasn't exactly sure.

Pedro Murillo could only claim to be extraordinarily tall, although his shoulders were also wide and strong, enough for him to be considered overtly masculine. And yet, despite the generosity of his frame, and perhaps because he had the tendency to blend into any background like a wall flower, he became painfully shy, and grew his hair just enough to be able to hide his face from the rest of the world.

What the rest of the world did not finally see of Pedro Murillo was that he had the slightest streak of blue in his dark eyes, something that came out only when the monsoons from the South would pour down on Dumaguet, around July or August after the summer sun had done its fierce rampage. In the sheets of rain and the clash of thunder and lightning, Pedro's eyes would burn blue into the night, to cease only when the last drop of rain would fall from the dark clouds.

But the blue had never sparkled so sharply like now. Six months ago, he had gone into Jo's Manok Inato to get his fill of Dumaguet's famous chicken dish -- a grilled concoction of choice drumstick or chicken breast marinated overnight with a strange and secret combination of milk, sugar, and aromatic spices.

From the moment the woman who waited on him asked, "Paa o pecho?" Pedro Murillo looked up, and knew -- like one had knowledge of an immediate need to pee -- that he was in love.

To be continued...

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Friday, August 19, 2005

entry arrow8:26 PM | Violence as Literary Catharsis

I can't help but post this exchange from LiveJournal, where I keep my more incendiary and erotic posts locked and hidden from the rest of the blogging world. Hehehe. This is an exchange between La Aquarius and me, on violence as denouement in literary works.

LA AQUARIUS: George Saunders' story in the August 1st New Yorker, while offering a humorous, skillfully dialogued exposition with touches of White Noise, falls apart at the end. It unravels into an easy denouement involving several acts of violence, that the opening gives little hint of (for comparison, see Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," which also climaxes in violence, but prepares the reader for it with sliding landscapes of graveyards, dark remarks, etc.). A writer's tendency to rely on violence as an easy means of tying off narratives strands resembles the criminal's tendency to rely on violence as an easy out. Wrapping a story without the use of broad, life-and-death swaths of action is much more difficult.

But violence can be very beautiful: when it approaches the cathartic, it transcends the gruesome, and becomes divine. I felt this for sure when I read Adam Haslett's "The Beginnings of Grief," where the violent fight scene between two boys verged on the erotic, even love and acceptance. I know that's paradoxical, but so is most of great literature. I've always felt that literature is a violent art, only subtly so. The epiphany, or the catharsis, at the end of a story is a necessary wrenching; sometimes the violence there is overt, sometimes implied, sometimes even hidden, but it is there. Note Oedipus Rex with its ending of bloodied eyes. Note the violence of Shakespeare and the Bible. Note most of mythology. I have yet to read a story that moved me without some violence in its story. Even something for children, like the gut-wrenching The Giving Tree, is violent. The tree gave everything, even its life, for the love of a boy. Yay. Then again, maybe this is just personal ars poetica: my stories almost always end violently. And the title of my first collection? Beautiful Accidents. Hehehe.

LA AQUARIUS: Thanks for your insightful and intelligent comments. I've got to check out that Haslett story. You bring up a lot of other compelling examples as well. And that's just the status quo I'm questioning: why is it that we require violence for closure in narratives? What you're saying, it seems, is that in addition to the writer relying heavily on violence, the reader relies on it as well. My contention would be that maybe we've just been conditioned to expect it? I'm thinking of an analogy in music: up until Debussy, all Western music relied on the same tonal devices for resolution: basically, a V chord to a I chord. Audiences had already been conditioned to expect such a resolution for hundreds of years! But when Debussy started writing modal music (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, etc.), he basically ushered in 20th Century music by creating a new form that didn't require the old kind of catharsis. It seemed aimless and vague to many of his contemporaries (just like the "impressionistic" work of his corollaries in the visual arts), but now strikes us (at least me) as lush and expressive.

ME: Oh my. NOW you've tickled the greatest of my fancy: social conditioning! But, of course! You may be right! Ey, can I use this thing about tonal devices for a short story I'm working on?

What do you think?

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entry arrow4:12 PM | A Dream in Novels: Some Notes on the Reading of the Filipino Novel in English, or Ditto to Dean's Blognote

(This is a response of sorts to Dean Alfar's post about the Filipino novel in English. Because this is an effort written on a whim, this pseudo-essay is still subject to additions, deletions, and heavy editing. That I just came from the dentist and I am now in an Internet cafe should give everyone the idea that I am basically writing this off my head, and without any formal research.)

In the end, we may have to blame Rizal for the tentative nature of our responses to the Filipino novel in English (even Tagalog): how we know that it is there, but also that there is almost no one reading (at least out of their own volition) any of the "masterpieces" our handful of novelists have churned out since Zoilo M. Galang published his sappy A Child of Sorrow in 1921. (The Summit books, and Ichi Batacan's Smaller and Smaller Circles, which was a Palanca Grand Prize winner in 1999, are exceptions to the rule: they are novelistic freaks for the fact that they have become bestsellers in a country not particularly known for its voracious reading culture -- but we shall attempt to discuss the nuances of this later on in this pseudo-essay.)

We celebrate Galang's book only for the way it marks a milestone in the development of our literature "from" (Gemino H. Abad's term) a borrowed tongue: because, only less than a quarter of a century since English was introduced to our shores, one of us already felt confident enough in his mastery of a foreign language to attempt what is deemed a herculean effort in literature -- the writing of a novel. The Indians, colonized by the British, took even longer, so our literary pundits say. It only took us 22 years. That's an impressive record, indeed. But to dissect the literariness of A Child of Sorrow would be to encounter a novel ridden with romantic cliches, we might as well just mention it in passing (as most critics do, if you noticed).

And there's also this observation: more than fifty years since Galang's pathbreaking foray into novel-writing, the genre has yet to take deep roots in our writing culture. Dean mentions Elmer Ordonez managing to account for only a hundred titles or so; in my list, there are only about 140 novels in English written by Filipinos -- the sum of almost a hundred years of Philippine literature in that language, which is probably comparable to the average number of titles released in America in, let's say, a month. Nick Joaquin, himself the author of "only" two novels (The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Cave and Shadows), once subscribed this situation as part our "heritage of smallness," which explains the Filipino's tendency to focus on small things. And "small things" in fiction-writing being the tendency for most Filipino fictionists to produce only the short story instead of novels. (And consider our "novels"! Shouldn't most of them be considered novelettes instead?)

The literary critic Leopoldo Yabes, according to Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, was once asked to do a survey of Filipino novels in 1965, and found it a daunting task since he could only account for only two novels being produced every year on the average. But Ma'am Jing sounds optimistic in her estimation of then and now. She wrote: "Today, if someone were to construct a list of the novels in English published during the last two decades, he would come up with at least sixty titles -- roughly three novels per year. Contrary to the gloomy predictions of the militant student-led movements of the late sixties, Philippine fiction in English has not merely survived; it appears to have thrived."

The first thing we might have to ask ourselves is this: why are we not producing novels in a respectable quantity? (Of course, if you consider "quantity" an important consideration.) Miguel Bernad's much-contested assessment of the "inchoateness" of our literature may indeed still ring true. "Primum est vivere," he had declared in that essay. One must first live. And accordingly, nobody is really able to live on his own writings in the Philippines. This is a country of parttime writers, if we have to be blunt about it: we all produce our stories and poems and plays basically on borrowed time since we are primarily teachers, journalists, copywriters, businessmen, lawyers, priests, and what-not. It is easy enough to understand or imagine the hardship entailed in trying to maintain the sustained effort required in writing a novel without the thought of where to get one's next meal intruding into our consciousness once in a while. Often, it is possible only to write novels in a sustained timeframe when one is mad enough to dive into the deep end without any hesitating preambles (which Dean probably did in the writing of Salamanca). For the most part, novelists who are teachers wait for their sabbaticals to be able to venture forth and finally write that novel; others depend on grants and fellowships to be able to get away from the grind of reality and escape into novel-writing. That is why we apply every year for the NCCA Writers Grant, whose reward of a small fortune enables the novelist wannabe to finally become financially stable and devote fulltime to his or her writing. And that is also why a significant number of our available novels are basically outputs of contests -- the Palanca perhaps, or the million-peso jackpot of the Centennial Literary Prize back in 1998. Since it seems to be a common understanding that nobody gets rich in the writing of a novel the way Stephen King or Danielle Steele get rich, it is only understandable that some write to win a prize for their efforts. Of course that is not the only reason why Filipino novelists write their novels: there is, in fact, always that aching need to write that novel inside each of us. There is that dream to produce what could be deemed The Great Filipino Novel. There are precious aesthetic considerations involved as well. But the contest prizes -- and the honors (and envy?) that come with them -- are the unsaid rewards much coveted by many, however covertly.

We have already been writing novels even before Galang. Pedro Paterno antedated Rizal with the publication of Ninay, a Tagalog novel about a woman who dies of heartbreak, in 1885, a full two years before Noli Me Tangere was published in Spanish in 1887. A slight, overly melodramatic novel in some ways, it has since then been interpreted as a subtle rebuke of Spanish abuses during the waning years of the Spanish colonial empire. But it is really Rizal's twin tomes (Noli and El Filibusterismo) that have shaped our literature like no other literary texts have. A hundred years later, taking note of the points Rofel Brion made in his essay about the aesthetic of the Filipino novel in English, we are virtually still lying under Rizal's shadow. In everything, including the aesthetics of novel-writing. On one hand, one can argue that there's nothing as glorious as being under the influence of the Great Malay; on the other hand, the influence of the Rizal novels in the foundation of a distinct Filipino tradition in novel-writing may also be a double-edged sword. Sir Bien (Lumbera) has noted that the Filipino novel -- both in Tagalog and English -- are basically the spawn of two often overlapping influence: the fantastic vein of Balagtas and the social realist vein of Rizal. The novels of Stevan Javellana (Without Seeing the Dawn), Edilberto Tiempo (A Watch in the Night), Maximo Kalaw (The Filipino Rebel), Carlos Bulosan (America is in the Heart), Juan Laya (His Native Soil), Francisco Lazaro (Maganda Pa ang Daigdig), and Amado Hernandez (Luha ng Buwaya), among others, display a predominant social realism (with touches of the fantastic in some of them).

According to Sir Bien, social realism is our truest heritage in the novel, and in fact argues that this must be maintained. In his study, Brion in fact notes that the most predominant theme in the novel in English is the characteristic of didacticism, and not really of the moral sort all of the time (say, the quaint religiosity and amusingly repressive etiquette of Modesto de Castro's Urbana at Felisa). Rather, what is significant is didacticism of the nationalistic sort.

Brion goes on to explain this didactic tendency as a result of many factors. I will try to explain three of these. Our literature, Brion says, is closely entertwined with our country's history; thus, our novels tend to be didactic if only because they comment, in varied ways, on the state of the nation as seen through the lives of the otherwise ordinary characters. Our history, one must have to admit, transcends even the abilities of fiction in its truthful narrative of strange things. Take note, for instance, how Eric Gamalinda opens Empire of Memory with the account of the Beatles being ran out of Manila by a crazed mob. Only in the Philippines! we say. In fact, the Martial Law period figures in many Filipino novels because it was just the strangest time -- both violent and surreal all at the same time. Sometimes, the didacticism of this sort -- especially in novels specializing in Martial Law storylines -- works, as in Butch Dalisay's harrowing Killing Time in a Warm Place. Also in Arlene Chai's Eating Fire, Drinking Water, where the madness of the Marcos years is easily translated into workable, and admirable, magic realism. (Strange oracles! Scheming nuns! Lost orphans! Magic earthquakes! A magnificent cathedral that would rise and fall in a single day! White horses in the sky!)

Sometimes, the didacticism falls flat, as in Azucena Grajo Uranza's arguably admirable effort at a historical tetralogy. I remember reading Bamboo in the Wind some time ago, and it felt like reading a textbook dramatized into stilted dialogue and scenes. Like Dean, I didn't finish quite finish the book -- although not because I am easily turned off by social realism, but because I just didn't want a book to obviously preach to me, which is literary didacticism at its worst.

Of this, perhaps we must echo Joseph Galdon's complaint: "Literary criticism has often demanded that the Philippine novel in English be proletarian, or nationalistic, or something else. The novel has not been allowed to be what must essentially and primarily be -- a story."

Brion also notes that one more factor in the unescapable didacticism (and its consequent social realism) of the Filipino novel in English seems to lie in the fact that these novels are mostly prize-winners. For the Centennial Literary Prize, there is obviously no escaping the tendency to romance the history and the state of the nation: thus, you have Charlson Ong's An Embarassment of Riches, Gamalinda's My Sad Republic, and Krip Yuson's Voyeurs and Savages. (R. Kwan Laurel has an interesting analysis of the three novels in his article "A Hundred Years after the Noli: The Three Centennial Novels in English.")

And what of the Palanca winners? Take note of this criteria and ponder on the implications, Brion said: "In the Novel category, the theme is open and free. However, it should depict the Filipino way of life, culture or aspiration..." Arguably, that is a recipe for a didactic novel, but I believe, however, that there seems to be a relaxation of this consideration in the Palanca Grand Prize Winner for the Novel, after Uranza's win for Bamboo in the Wind -- never mind Sir Frankie Sionil's insistence, just like Salvador Lopez before him, that "Art does not develop in a vacuum; the artist is first responsible not just to his art but to society as well."

In 1999, Ichi won for a novel (Smaller and Smaller Circles) that was acclaimed for finally bridging the gap -- at least in the Philippines -- between what is considered "literary" and what is considered "popular". It was, after all, a well-written detective novel -- although I must admit that I was a bit let down by what seemed to be a hurried, much-too-easy denouement: note the all-too-quick catching of the serial killer, which is a no-no in our more sophisticated age where we expect our detective novels to have more red herrings for leads, to have more twists before the final curtain must fall. (I've always wanted to email Ichi about this, but couldn't.) Three years later, one can argue that Vince Groyon's wonderful The Sky Over Dimas is a return to the nationalistic didactic form, but no: it is a pungent tale of the mores and deadly secrets of Bacolod high society, which has a more fantastic outlook than being serious social commentary. It definitely led the way to Dean winning this year for Salamanca, a novel written in one month; I've read one chapter of this novel, "Gaudencio & Jacinta," and I've already blogged previously about how I felt this work finally fleshens out -- in glorious full bloom -- the possibilities of Filipino magic realism, without looking like pale imitations of the Latin American kind. Is the novel less Filipino because it is not overtly a work of social realism? I don't think so. I can even make the claim that it is harkening back to the magical narrative of our forgotten pre-colonial myths, legends, and epics. In a sense, Salamanca is a return to our deepest roots the way the novels of Hernandez and his ilk can never claim to accomplish: their mark of social realism -- at least for the current generation of readers and writers generally distrustful of leftist-leanings -- smacks of "foreign conceit" and "defunct" ideologies: Marxism, revolution, the class war between the burgis and the proletariat masa, which, although rooted in real social underpinnings that are only too true in their reports of social injustices, ultimately pale in the knowledge of socialism's failure in Russia, in Eastern Europe, in North Korea, in Cuba. ("Look at China and Vietnam today," this generation would probably say, if they would even give a damn to express a political opinion, "aren't these capitalist states riding on a veneer of communism?") In this age, after all, Che Guevarra is no longer the communist freedom fighter he once was: he is an icon consumed by capitalism, whose visage is printed on mugs and t-shirts and other merchandise. Heck, he is even a movie starring a Hispanic heartthrob (The Motorcycle Diaries).

But I started with Rizal. And why we should blame him for "alienating" readers from the Filipino novel. This is only a retread of Galdon's old complaint (see above). Brion noted that most Filipino writers/novelists tend to be didactic because subconciously they try to emulate the narrative paragon Rizal set in the Noli and Fili. And there is just no escaping Rizal when one is a typical Filipino. The first folk tales we hear of as children are stories spun, or adapted magnificently, by Rizal: "Mariang Makiling" and "The Monkey and the Turtle." We can even add "The Moth and the Flame" to those two classics. And our first kasabihan? Of course: "Ang di marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa malansang isda." When we went on to high school, we were first introduced to his novels. In college, CHED mandated that we should all enroll in one course that would cover Rizal's life and works. We cannot escape from Rizal. He is there when we fish for change and take out a peso coin. He is there when we light our posporo. He is there when we go to our plazas, where he stands as a monument clad in trademark coat and books, standing still as a statue. In Dumaguete, Rizal gives the name to our popular seaside Boulevard. The first two movies made in the Philippines were about Rizal. And the last noted blockbuster of note, was Marilou Diaz Abaya's Rizal. Rizal is in our subconscious. No wonder, Brion said, we write our novels as pale imitations of his works.

But I believe that the Rizalian hold on our novelistic aesthetics may be thawing. It's been a hundred years since the Noli, and it's about time, anyway. Perhaps the ready examples of this paradigm shift is the unacknowledged (at least among the "snobbish" literati) popularity of the Summit books under the editorship of Tara FT Sering. Published under the auspices of Cosmopolitan Magazine Philippines, the novels are unabashedly of the romantic sort. Chick lit, so to speak. The mention of that term easily raises the hackles of the literary purists among Filipino writerly circles. But dammit, these books are actually interesting and intelligent; they are immensely readable; and they are -- horrors! -- quite literary. Consider the novelists in the series: Sering herself, Abi Aquino, Andrea Pasion, Mabi David, Tweet Sering, Melissa Salva, and others. Many of them are award-winning writers, and some have anthologized works in several literary books. But in their novels -- which are unqualified bestsellers, and I hear quite remarkable for the royalty they provide their authors, which is totally unheard of in the maintstream publishing climes of the country -- they write of love won and love lost, the gender wars, and others of that vein. Fluff? Perhaps. But hey, literary fluff.

I'd like to think of these novels -- along with the works by Ichi, Dean, and Vince -- as the best indicators of the bright future ahead for the Philippine novel in English. Sir Krip (Yuson) recently wrote that the future of Philippine fiction lies in the hands of Filipino-American novelists like Bino Realuyo (The Umbrella Country), Jessica Hagedorn (Dream Jungle and Dogeaters), Ninotchka Rosca (State of War), Brian Ascalon Roley (American Son), Noel Alumit (Letters to Montgomery Clift), Han Ong (The Disinherited and Fixer Chao), M. Evelina Galang (What is a Tribe), Tess Uriza Holthe (When the Elephants Dance), and Sabina Murray (A Carnivore's Inquiry).

Perhaps, but not entirely so.

There are budding novelists among us, in our ranks, in our side of shores. They will, I am sure, surprise us. Timothy Montes has a novel, Running Amok, on the way. Bing Sitoy, too, I heard. Maryanne Moll, who just won third prize in the Palanca short story category this year, has one, still unpublished. Baryon Tensor Posadas is working on one that will probaly rival Haruki Murakami's. Kit Kwe is working on a historical epic, and there countless others who are toiling, too, to produce worthwhile works. I can only wish them a prayer for the sustenance of their incredible efforts. Because imagine what a great future that will be, all these novels coming out one by one. We can then certainly say we have finally come of age, novel-wise.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

entry arrow10:54 PM | Fantasy, Magic, and Writing Fever

From the hundred interesting comments on the supposed metaphors of fantasy in Making Light, I get this from reader Mary Dell:

In magic realism, the Angel* who falls to earth and is kept in the chicken shed by the callous humans is a symbol, and the point of the story is that (in my reading, anyway) (1) humans suck and (2) we no longer are impressed or inspired by miracles. The business of magic realism is to take extraordinary creatures or events and drag them into the harsh light of the ordinary world, so that reality may be examined with the aid of these particular symbols.

The business of fantasy, on the other hand, is to take ordinary personalities and events and place them in an extraordinary world. Readers who are accustomed to magic realism will recognize their favorite symbols, and be confused by any story which uses those elements in a literal way. But, you know, too bad for them; we got here first.
Of course, there are the other commenters who either agree or disagree, but it's basically a gamut of intelligent opinions on the literariness of fantasy and science fiction.

Interesting, no?

[via banzai cat]

But I've been fascinated with fantasy and science fiction lately. (I spent my birthday yesterday writing a story.) I only had to read an excerpt from Dean Alfar's Palanca Prize-winning novel Salamanca, and was completely bowled over by his credible use of magic realism -- and I knew that one didn't have to bend over and shamelessly copy the Latin Americans to use magic realism, and still remain distinctly Filipino. (Although some critics make a point of citing Wilfrido Nolledo's But For the Lovers; one American reviewer has even pointed out that that novel antedated Latin American magic realism by a good number of years.) I've always been haunted by the resonance of Arthur C. Clarke's The Star and the creepy surprise of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery.

From these old and new influences, I managed to churn out that CANVAS children's story about a rocking horse and a bald violin player, and a future fiction piece ("The Pepe Report") for Dean's fantasy and science fiction anthology -- a piece where they clone Rizal to test his alleged homosexuality, only to be surprised that the petite hero was actually a ... Well, you have to buy the forthcoming book to find out, yeah? There's also the piece ("A Tragedy of Chickens") I managed to write in about two (or three) days for Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's food fiction anthology, which is a merry mix of slapstick and magic realism, courtesy of chicken inato and the disappearing chickens of a small Negros town. (This is only the second time since the writing of "Old Movies" three years ago that I'd constantly laugh out loud in the middle of writing the story.) Now, I'm flexing my writing muscles again for Danton Remoto's anthology of ghost stories. The deadline is still next month, but something's churning in my mind right now. I'm calling the story "The Good Daughter," and hope that it isn't any cheap retread of one's conventional Gothic piece.

What's with the energy to write so many stories within the year ba, when I used to average only two a year? Blame the resurgence of fantasy in the popular culture landscape (from Harry Potter to the Lord of the Rings movies to local TV's Encantadia). Blame Ma'am Chari Lucero's call from way back in Iligan in 2002 to explore our own fascinating mythology. Blame Kit Kwe's infectious writing bug. But I really took someone's advice in his blog: if you want to be assured you're worth your salt as a fictionist, you have to get up from the couch, turn off that blasted television, sit down in front of your computer, and pound those keys, dammit. And start joining contests, too; no matter if you win or lose really. It's a good thing to compete. The Palanca's over for this year, so why don't you start with this one?

*a reference to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

entry arrow11:24 PM | The Birthday Suite

30 years later, and it's another birthday eve.

I'm not even going to deny it. In thirty minutes, I turn ten years north of 20. And there goes, for me, the last blush of youth. Ayayay. For comfort in my aching acknowledgment of impending seniority, I plan to turn to the bromides of daytime TV tomorrow. Meryl Streep was being interviewed on Oprah some weeks ago, together with those other glam, brainy gals of recent years, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore -- and something she said struck me: "The greatest compliment you can give yourself is to say your real age, and live it gracefully." Or something to the effect. (I'm bad at memorizing lines -- but I do remember Oprah calling Meryl a "quote-a-minute.")

So, all right. I'll admit it. I'm finally... 30.

It has been a long, often hard road to self-realization. Even with truth-telling and age. I am in that cusp of age that bridges the wild days of the twenties, and the more settled (old?) fashion that the thirties promise. It's nearing the middle life of an average man's age. That has got to start anyone thinking: what has life brought for me? Am I living the dreams I had as a boy waiting breathlessly to grow up?

For the most part, I've known life to be a series of stops, with battles and skirmishes along the way. I don't remember my late teens well, except that it felt like the insides of a comfortable cocoon -- but I have a general notion that I enjoyed college quite well, but enjoyed it more when I was in my early 20s.

See, I was not one for the typical, and quick, four-years-then-graduation arrangement. That was not college for me; that was a useless race with meaningless time. But I remember leaving high school determined not to be a "geek" anymore, and deigned to see the world even before I'd feel the texture of a dirty black toga on my skin.

I kept that promise: I fell in love for the first time at 21, saw the world at 22, had my heart broken at 23, went through the Real World hell at 24, found myself again at 25, gained professional momentum at 26, began reaping the early fruits of my labor at 27, and now I'm 30 -- and the world, I know, can only be a beautiful place, still full of pain, recriminations, hurts, and daunting challenges, but I've become patient, I think, and more knowing. I've grown old, one might say -- but beautifully, the way good wine becomes vintage.

Yet I almost did not make it this year. For the first time in years, my regular birthday blues came early: that was three days ago, and I felt the familiar grip of depression on my chest, an eagle of a dread that began with doubts and paranoia, which finally paralyzed me. What was I doing here? Where am I going? What is my life all about? The same unanswered questions mitigated only by denial and evasion. And then, as expected, it let go. Somehow, I suddenly knew the careful protocols to negotiate such things.

The days going into my birthday, I finally saw the world for what it was: a battlefield of beautiful cripples and those with enough spirit to just go on, despite the war wounds. It was both sad and hopeful all at the same time. (But I do mean to be vague here... there's just no point singling out people for being the examples of life's caricatures they've become. All I know is, life cannot be great if one is spiteful, intellectually arrogant, or bound by little rules without meaning except petty power and red tape. Ack. Enough.)

Also this: geography does not define the man, or destiny. So I don't live in the big city. So I'm not in America or elsewhere like the rest of my country's middle class. Life tells you, eventually, that contentment starts from within, not without.

It was also a good time to awaken from old, stagnant dreams. I've decided to finally say goodbye to so many baggages. I've done well the past three years keeping so many lingering old things out of my consciousness. Yet, something the eminent marine biologist Laurie Hutchison Raymundo said to me during the garden birthday dinner she gave me two years ago (with Bing Valbuena and Marge Udarbe), proved ultimately cathartic. And she didn't even know it! I can't repeat it what she said here ... what for? But I knew ... I knew that was it, the last invitation for goodbyes.

My Birth Day, I know, will be a good day. I will sleep late till 8 a.m., until my brothers will give me a call to wish me some happiness appropriate for the age. One of them will probably pick me up later for mother's house. I share a birthday with my mom, see. She turns 73 tomorrow, and she is still as spritely as the woman I've loved all my years. We will probably have a small party, with friends I've known since I was a kid, and then it will be back home for the rest of the night in my apartment. Just now, I have finished cleaning everything from top to bottom in my pad, and it feels good, cleaning my own apartment, a kind of objective correlative for the cleaning of the slate I want: to begin a new lease on life dirtying my hands first in order to keep clean. Now, after I blog this, I will go out and see the stars. That will feel fulfilling.

Right now, I'm beginning to live life without the sweeping preambles for changing: just little things to tell me I'm doing right: waking early, eating breakfast (finally!), doing what needs to be done during official work hours, getting healthy meals, exercising once a week, and finally sleeping at 12 midnight. So far, I'm doing just fine, and I'm glad.

Birthdays should always feel like this. Like a breath of fresh air.

And I will end by quoting the great Susan Sarandon whose wisdom in years allows her to say: "I look forward to growing older, when you are becomes more important than how you look."

Adios for now, my friends! Time to see the stars outside.


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Sunday, August 14, 2005

entry arrow1:33 PM | I Do

I was reading this, and it pained me that there are these people who are given so much freedom by the law to marry any way they damn well please -- and yet so many of them tend to treat the whole thing as a sham they can play with, but still call it as "preserving the sanctity of the institution of marriage." In the face of those who truly love each other but cannot marry, it's a slap. (And what the hey?)

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entry arrow2:58 AM | Needs Sugar

Damn. I was half-way finished with my food fiction for Cecilia Manguerra Brainard's anthology when I happened to reread her emailed invitation again. And was reminded that she wanted to have something fun, even lighthearted, from me. Oh my. But the story I'm writing, titled "Season," is perfectly dreary and serious -- it is about an emotionally vacant mother trying to make amends with her estranged sons by making them a fiesta of a Sunday dinner. I guess it's back to the drawing boards. I have a week to submit something. Let's see.... A lighthearted story related to food.... Hmmm....

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Friday, August 12, 2005

entry arrow10:26 PM | The Great Brown Debut

Oh, my. Finally a review of John Dahl's The Great Raid. Here's what the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert has to say:

The film is unique in giving full credit to the Filipino fighters who joined the Rangers and made the local logistics possible by enlisting the secret help of local farmers and villagers (their ox carts were employed to carry prisoners too weak to walk). The Filipinos are led by Capt. Juan Pajota (Cesar Montano), a forcible local actor who steps into the Hollywood cast and adds to its authenticity and sense of mission.

You have to admit, when you read that line, a swell of pride rises in you. Way to go, Montano! (The New York Times is not so enthralled, though. The critic Stephen Holden described the film as being tedious.)


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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

entry arrow10:06 AM | Nagasaki, 9 August 1945

By Michaito Ichimaru

In August 1945, I was a freshman at Nagasaki Medical College. The ninth of August was a clear, hot, beautiful, summer day. I left my lodging house, which was one and one half mile from the hypocenter, at eight in the morning, as usual, to catch a tram car. When I got to the tram stop, I found that it had been derailed in an accident. I decided to return home. I was lucky. I never made it to school that day.

At 11 a.m., I was sitting in my room with a fellow student when I heard the sound of a B-29 passing overhead. A few minutes later, the air flashed a brilliant yellow and there was a huge blast of wind.

We were terrified and ran downstairs to the toilet to hide. Later, when I came to my senses, I noticed a hole had been blown in the roof, all the glasses had been shattered, and that the glass had cut my shoulder and I was bleeding. When I went outside, the sky had turned from blue to black and the black rain started to fall. The stone walls between the houses were reduced to rubble.

After a short time, I tried to go to my medical school in Urakami, which was 500 meters from the hypocenter. The air dose of radiation was more than 7,000 rads at this distance but I could not complete my journey because there were fires everywhere. I met many people coming back from Urakami. Their clothes were in rags, and shreds of skin were hanging from their bodies. They looked like ghosts with vacant stares. The next day, I was able to enter Urakami on foot, and all that I knew had disappeared. Only the concrete and iron skeletons of the buildings remained. There were dead bodies everywhere. On each street corner we had tubs of water used for putting out fires after the air raids. In one of these small tubs, scarcely large enough for one person, was the body of a desperate man who sought cool water. There was foam coming from his mouth, but he was not alive.

I cannot get rid of the sounds of crying women in the destroyed fields. As I got nearer to school, there were black charred bodies, with the white edges of bones showing in the arms and legs. A dead horse with a bloated belly lay by the side of the road. Only the skeleton of the medical hospital remained standing. Because the school building was wood, it was completely destroyed. My classmates were in that building attending their physiology lecture. When I arrived some were still alive. They were unable to move their bodies. The strongest were so weak that they were slumped over on the ground. I talked with them and they thought they would be O.K. but all of them would eventually die within weeks. I cannot forget the way their eyes looked at me and their voices spoke to me forever. I went up to the small hill behind the medical school, where all of the leaves of the trees were lost. The green mountain had changed into a bald mountain. There were many medical students, doctors, nurses, and some patients who escaped from the school and hospital. They were very weak and wanted water badly, crying out, "Give me water, please." Their clothes were in rags, bloody and dirty. Their condition was very bad. I carried down several friends of mine on my back from this hill. I brought them to their houses using a cart hitched to my bicycle. All of them died in the next few days. Some friends died with high fever, talking deliriously. Some friends complained of general malaise and bloody diarrhea, caused by necrosis of the bowel mucous membrane by severe radiation.

One of my jobs was to contact the families of the survivors. In all the public schools I visited, there were many, many survivors brought there by healthy people. It is impossible to describe the horrors I saw. I heard many voices in pain, crying out, and there was a terrible stench. I remember it as an inferno. All of these people also died within several weeks.

One of my friends who was living in the same lodging house cycled back from medical school by himself that day. He was a strong man doing Judo. That night he gradually became weak but he went back to his home in the country by himself the next day. I heard he died a few weeks later. I lost many friends. So many people died that disposing the bodies was difficult. We burned the bodies of my friends in a pile of wood which we gathered, in a small open place. I clearly remember the movement of the bowels in the fire.

On August 15, 1945, I left Nagasaki by train to return to my home in the country. There were many survivors in the same car. Even now, I think of the grief of the parents of my friends who died. I cannot capture the magnitude of the misery and horror I saw. Never again should these nuclear weapons be used, no matter what happens. Only when mankind renounces the use of these nuclear weapons will the souls of my friends rest in peace.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

entry arrow11:12 PM | The Martini*

I like Monday nights, when I finish cleaning my pad, and then I finally get to relax, smell the sweet scent of the whole place scrubbed top to bottom with Lysol, and just stare at my wall of books. The place is quiet, and soooo clean. Oh, God. I'm so Monica Geller. (Yup, I'm watching Friends now.)

So, did anybody win a Palanca yet?

*The Martini is film lingo for the last shot of the day.


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Sunday, August 07, 2005

entry arrow6:21 PM | Ancient Wisdom, Ancient Puzzles

It is the greatest houses and the tallest trees that the gods bring low with bolts and thunder. For the gods love to thwart whatever is greater than the rest. They do not suffer pride in anyone but themselves.


I'm reading this from Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason's immensely readable The Rule of Four...

... which is infinitely better than that blasted bestseller The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, the exasperating prose of which made my eyeballs roll a thousand times. (I mean, thrill me, jolt me, make me remember my crush for Indiana Jones and his exotic adventures -- but don't make me laugh out loud with writing so leaden it's almost a joke.) I have to admit though that what Brown lacks in characterization and textured language, he makes up with an uncanny sense of pacing and thrilling twists. And his "secret" is far more esoteric (consider Da Vinci, the Louvre, the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar...) and earth-shattering (that Jesus sired family through Mary Magdalene, a secret being covered up -- by murder and other heinous means -- by the Catholic Church) than the not-so-beguiling but still puzzling affair of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. But I've always been a sucker for ancient mysteries and dark secrets. I read Brown's original inspiration, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln's Holy Blood, Holy Grail, when I was still in high school, and thought the book strange but thought-provoking. It was a time I remember most especially for reading the likes of Katherine Neville's The Eight, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, and Donna Tartt's The Secret History. It's all guilty pleasure: how reading such books takes you through a whirlwind of ancient treasures and questions, answering riddles and puzzles and ciphers all the way. The New York Times notes of it: "The real treat here is the process of discovery." And nothing, I think, is more pleasurable than that.

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

entry arrow9:19 PM | After Sleeping

I slept. I slept like there was no tomorrow. On the way to Cebu aboard the early morning bus, I slept. "You were gone," the woman named Hazel told me while we prepped ourselves up for the interview in Vienna Kaffee Haus along Maxilom, in Cebu. She was seated three rows before me and had casually looked around the slowly filling-up bus, and noticed that I was fast asleep. I had many questions to gauge potential embarassment, like: Was my mouth open when I was asleep? Did I snore? Did I do that thing where I'd rest my sleepy head on my unfortunate seatmate's shoulders? But I didn't ask. And she did not press with any more information. We were too busy chatting about the most mundane of things to quiet the butterflies in our stomachs. Father Eking was cracking jokes. Ma'am Irma, who was my teacher in college, was trying to be mother to us all, which I appreciated. We were all in the same boat: nervous wrecks all, putting up brave faces while we slowly wilted under the long wait. There were many applicants -- about 70 from all of the Visayas and Mindanao -- for four measly spots for Rotary's GSE fellowship for New Orleans, Louisiana, next summer. Four spots. What were the odds?

Nevertheless, I told myself I needed this exercise in being interrogated by a bunch of intimidating strangers if I was to survive the many interviews in the future, for the grants and fellowships I planned to apply for. The last two times I got interviewed, I was a regional finalist for the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines, where I totally sucked, and then for a post as an Air Philippines flight attendant, which I passed with flying colors but I opted not to pursue the job because I just couldn't myself as a cabin boy up in the sky. Both happened in 1999, when I had no idea what to do with the rest of my life.

But the interview yesterday! It was actually fun. The panel was intimidating as expected, but instead of calming myself by imagining them naked (hehehe), I imagined I was just in another classroom where I was the teacher. It was weird finding myself becoming quite articulate and passionate when I talked about literature and being a teacher, and what-not. I was asked to identify a poetic line from some poet. I was asked to convey my opinion about toeing the line between journalism integrity and the ravages of business reality. I was asked how I can solve the poverty situation in the Philippines. ("Education," I said. "I can only look at my family as the embodiment of that solution. We were quite poor, and I saw my mother struggling hard to put us through school. She believed in education, and I guess we -- my brothers and I -- are now reaping the fruits of her labors...") I was asked many things, and I believe I was able to answer as best as I could, given my nervousness and the short time I was given to impress them with my qualitifications. Granted this fellowship or not, at least I can now prove to myself I no longer suck in interviews.

On the Cokaliong boat home to Dumaguete that night, Economy Class, I slept. The kind of sleep where there are no dreams, only a deep grogginess that fogs your brain. I slept, until I had to disembark around 2 a.m. Finally back home in the comforts of my own bed, I slept until 2 p.m., and had a combination of lunch and breakfast and early dinner. Then I slept again, until 8 p.m. Was this my body's way of compensating for all the stress of the past days? You bet. I can actually say now that I feel more relaxed, and I'm rearing to have another go at another week of work.

I still have tons of unfinished things to do before my birthday deadline comes up. I'm ready to face them all.


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Thursday, August 04, 2005

entry arrow5:05 PM | In a Whirl

Sometimes, I astound myself with how I can do so many things at once, and not go crazy. (Actually, I am on the brink of insanity, but so far, I still have my wits about me.) Before I board the bus very early tomorrow morning for an important interview in Cebu, I've been doing my best to finish unfinished things. Paid my rent. Checked. Finished my two columns for Bacolod's Visayan Daily Star and Dumaguete's Metropost. Checked. Finished the Outstanding Sillimanian Awards Ceremony script, with the University President breathing down my neck. Checked. Made my Research Writing midterm exam and emailed it to my students. Checked. Made my Intensive Composition midterm exam and emailed it to my students. Checked. Finished tweaking and printing out my syllabi for those two classes and for my special Philippine Literary History class, to be submitted to the Department Chair. Checked. Researched on Rotary International. Checked. Got my laundry. Checked.

Forgot to have lunch, though.

Well, that's good, so far. When I come back to Dumaguete Saturday morning for a class with my English majors, I should be checking all those midterm papers, prepare my individual research guides for my research students, finish grading my majors' midterm papers, finish the editing of my stories for Dean's anthology and for the CANVAS competition, and if I can still breathe, write something passable for the NCCA Writers Prize as well. There's also the urgent matter of my anthology with Kit, and all those papers waiting to be finished for my MA classes.

Fine, no problem. I can ... do ... all these....

Basilio! Crispin! Asan na kayo!


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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

entry arrow3:56 AM | What to Do When You Finish Cleaning Your Pad at Four in the Morning

There's always something about the beginning of August that gets me all startled, and beefed up for action. Maybe it's because my birthday's coming, and I always get that sense that I need to finish unfinished things before I turn a year older. Yay. Right now, I am up to my neck with work and a thousand responsibilities, but tonight, I really, really had to clean my apartment first. It's 4:04 in the morning, and I am finally finished with dusting and scrubbing away the last signs of dirt and grime. Hurray. Sigh. So why am I not asleep yet? Oh, yeah... I just had to blog while finishing Dickie Roberts, Former Child Star. Which I watched after Marci X. There's nothing like bad comedies to get you through an evening cleaning the last nook of your pad.


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