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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, February 29, 2008

entry arrow11:35 AM | LitCritters Dumaguete No. 27

Special Session WIth Lakambini Sitoy
March 1

A Filipina Writer’s Story
Intricate Forces
Mens Rea
The Injury Zone
The Sisterhood
Secret Notes on the Dead Star

The LitCritters is a reading and writing group based in Manila (moderated by Dean Francis Alfar) and Dumaguete. Every week, we read and discuss several pieces of short fiction from various genres from different writers with the goal of expanding our reading horizons, improving our ability to critique, and learning how to write from the good texts. In addition to speculative fiction, we read Philippine literature in English, as well as world literature. The Dumaguete Group meets every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Silliman University President's Home.

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entry arrow12:29 AM | Never Fully Disclosed

Today, February 29, a loose group of Dumaguete-based young artists—which includes Mark Valenzuela, Razceljan Salvarita, Amihan Jumalon, Donnie Luis Calseña, Uno, Jana Jumalon-Alano, Hemrod Duran, and Is Jumalon, all of whom are acclaimed locally and regionally for the sheer ambition of their art—will be launching an exhibit of new works in a show titled Never Fully Disclosed. The exhibit, housed at the Foyer Gallery of the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, is curated by Mr. Valenzuela, and aims, foremost, to provide a venue for local young artists to showcase their works, as well as to encourage student artists in Silliman University to explore their talents, to contribute to the advancement of the arts and culture of Dumaguete City, and to celebrate February as the National Arts Month. Bendix Fernandez writes of the exhibit’s purpose: “All works of art are fossils of something already long gone. A terracotta sculpture is the carapace of a creature that once moved under the thoughtful hands of its creator. A painting—skin that used to be stretched taut against the flesh of some restless, growling animal. Poems—wings now trapped in amber. We must see these objects only as remnants of entities that once came alive in the mind of an artist before they took on their final shape. We have sowed these fossils into the ground and invite you to unearth them. Though they will never fully completely disclose what they once were when we cavorted with them, took them to our beds at night, and woke up with them—they remain a powerful fragment of something that lived and breathed ad held us in their thrall. Perhaps, they shall come alive for you too.”

The art exhibit opens today at 5:30 in the afternoon and is part of the current cultural season sponsored by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee. The exhibit runs until March 15. The Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium Foyer Gallery is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For inquiries, please call/contact Gang-gang at (035) 422-6002 loc. 520.

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entry arrow12:25 AM | American Junk

It's forty minutes past midnight in the early morning of Friday. Still watching the tail end of a show I shouldn't be watching anymore. But weren't the girls in American Idol this week totally tone deaf? They were all soooo bad -- even Ramiele Malubay for whom no amount of kababayan-ness in my part can dissuade me to say, "Yikes." This was the worst episode I can remember in the whole history of the show.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

entry arrow9:12 PM | The Local Fiction Front

I haven't really written anything since the story I wrote last month, and in many ways, that scares me. No, disappoints me. Because I had planned to churn out fiction like there was no tomorrow, because there really is no excuse for the parse inventory. Of course, I could always blame the unique and unexpected brutality of February with all its twists, demands, and medical emergencies. But that's just one big excuse. Still, there are the writing projects I have made firm commitments to finish (there's the anthology of Silliman fictionists I have been given a grant to compile and finish by August...), and just a while back, an American anthologist emailed me that he was including my story "Old Movies" in an upcoming book centering around the mystique of Ava Gardner. I said sure. Have never really been anthologized in the U.S. before, so this is something new. (Incidentally, that story is also the one story I've written that a famous French literary journal had translated to French. I have no idea what makes "Old Movies" so international, but it's all so interesting.) Then there's also the newish story in Ma'am Jing's new anthology, so I guess this year is turning out finer than usual. But still, I feel kinda stuck, and I really want to finish something new now. These days, I'm thinking about sexy stories more than usual, so that may be the direction I'd be taking in the next few stabs at fiction. A writer-friend (whom I can't name here, but is one of the best female writers of her generation) tells me she is actually writing erotica under a pseudonym for Danish soft-porn magazines, and is really excited about the whole genre. "Hey, why don't we do a trifecta of erotic writings -- an anthology of three!" she told me. I asked her, "Who'd be the third party?" And she said with glee: "Sarge Lacuesta!" Interesting. And so I told her, "I'm in." But let's see how this goes...

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entry arrow7:37 PM | The Secret Lives of Fruits in Love and Lust

This totally reminds me of the quirky characters living inside Marguerite de Leon's refrigerator in her delightful short story "Frozen Delight." In this case, here are your everyday regular fruits, in all their untold scarlet secrets and adulterous commiseration. Ladies, gentlemen, and fruits of all kinds... presenting... "I Caught You With the Banana!"...

[emailed in by the divine ginny mata]

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

entry arrow11:18 PM | Tales of Fantasy and Enchantment

New anthology of speculative fiction, this one edited by the acclaimed fictionist Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, is finally out! (Does this mean the Philippine literary establishment has finally embraced genre writings? Let's hope so.) Anyway, Tales of Fantasy and Enchantment from Milflores Publishing should be available in all National Bookstore and Powerbooks branches nationwide very soon.

This was, of course, the anthology Dean Francis Alfar and I have been hinting about for months now, and well, it's finally here. And the list of stories promises some savory readings ahead...

Manananggirrrl by Marivi Soliven Blanco
The Sniffles by Carljoe Javier
Some Kind of Noir by Karl R. De Mesa
A Tidy Little Tale by Jose Claudio B. Guerrero
Graveyard Shift by Andrea L. Peterson
Haunted by BJ A. Patino
The Haunting of Martina Luzuriaga by Vicente Garcia Groyon
Monkey Watching by Romina Ma. Gonzalez
Martines by Anna Felicia C. Sanchez
The Stranded Star by Nikki Alfar
The Middle Prince by Dean Francis Alfar
The Sugilanon of Epefania's Heartbreak by Ian Rosales Casocot
Green Girl by Cyan Abad-Jugo
The Gyutou by FH Batacan
Mallina the Lovely by Tara FT Sering
The Other Daughter by Daryll Jane Delgado
Orange by Natasha B. Gamalinda
A Secret Affair with Basti Artadi by Samantha Echavez
War Zone Angel by Emil M. Flores
The Fortune Teller by Gizela M. Gonzalez

Thanks to Dean for the special shout-out in his blog. But you know naman, dear friend, who I ultimately am indebted to for all this spec fic obsession.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

entry arrow8:58 PM | He's Effing Ben Affleck!

I absolutely hated Jimmy Kimmel in the attention-whoring The Man Show and never really found him funny, even with the coolness factor of having potty-mouth Sarah Silverman as girlfriend. But this video revenge against Sarah for "fucking Matt Damon" is damn hilarious.

Pure lowbrow genius. Salute to you, Jimmy, for the cojones -- and for the very impressive Rolodex. (The cameos of all those stars! You must have a very good agent.) This video beats "We Are the World" anytime. I have no more words. Teehee.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

entry arrow11:09 PM | Tonight

Just got back home after watching Bart Guingona and Pinky Amador in Love Letters. I still can't figure out how a play where two characters sit behind tables reading letters to each other can have an epic feel -- and can become so thoroughly moving without seemingly trying. When Bart's character gave that paean to letter-writing near the end of Act 1, I knew the play got me. But the end ... wow, it had the whole Luce Auditorium audience bawling. God, I needed that play, if only to remind me what it feels like to be alive. This has been a most trying a week -- quite a sad one actually, but a sadness that feels unreal, unsettled. I remember being in the classroom last Friday. While my students were doing a freewriting activity, I found myself staring out into space, out to the blank blue beyond the fourth floor window, and everything just had an unnameable aura of bleakness. Tonight, I know everything's going to be all right.

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entry arrow6:13 PM | Hong Kong Sex Scandal!

Of course you remember those assorted geographically-specific porn flicks -- jumpstarted by the Dumaguete Sex Scandal video -- that made the rounds of our favorite pirates' DVD hoards a while back... Apparently, the whole phenomenon has jumped the South China Sea and is now wrecking havoc in our neighbors up north. I feel completely out of the loop -- been too busy minding other things that I forgot to keep track of showbiz gossip, and I didn't even know about this until I read a news bulletin in CNN.com, of all places: Edison Chen, the wildly popular Hong Kong film star (he was in The Grudge 2 and in Infernal Affairs, in a role that Matt Damon took in Martin Scorsese's The Departed) apparently has taken 1,300 pictures of prominent Hong Kong showbiz personalities in poses of various sexual acts with him. He had his laptop repaired, and unknowingly unleashed the scandal which is now rocking (and titillating) the showbiz world of Hong Kong and Taiwan. And the photos are frankly shameless. (The Hollywood Grind blog has the updates and the full photo collection .) Although, in fairness to him, they do show him in full, umm, glory.

Poor Edison then quickly hid to escape the pressure, and has only now emerged to apologize. (The female partners -- all of them prominent showbiz personalities -- have been hit hard by the scandal. One was just handed divorce papers, and another had her engagement nullified.) Edison has since announced his semi-retirement from the entertainment industry: "I admit that most of the photos being circulated on the Internet were taken by me. But these photos are very private and have not been shown to people and are never intended to be shown to anyone.... During my time away, I have made an important decision. I will whole-heartedly fulfill all commitments that I have to date. But after that, I decided to step away from the Hong Kong entertainment industry."

Read his blog here.

Maybe he should work in the Philippines. Mother Lily can give him a job, and he could become the next ST king, in films directed by Joel Lamangan.

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entry arrow1:00 AM | “Dearest”—A History of Love in Letters

A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters is a strange play, to say the least. It is not a musical, so there is no danger of gnawing your tongue out from hearing all that bad singing. And it is not your typical drama where assorted characters populate several acts of intricate theatrics. What it is is minimalist theater in all its basic starkness: there is a simple set—sometimes with a table and some chairs, and there are only two actors playing characters springing from the privileged class in America. They read letters they have sent to each other, and in less than two hours, what we essentially get is a domestic epic that covers the high (and low) grounds of second grade, marriage, divorce, and finally, middle age. In between, we slowly get a story of their flirtations and frustrations, a simple narrative, really, of how we live our lives to accommodate that “tingle” for another.

But the emotional core behind Love Letters is titanic and its theme quite complex, easily transcending the minimalism of its presentation. When the play works, its emotional overflow can be overwhelming. It can move you, it can make you fall in love, and it can give you a Kleenex box full of tears—and for all that, this play is quite perfect for the Valentines season. Straight from its successful staging in Manila, Subic, and Cebu, Little Boy Productions and Actor’s Actor Inc. are bringing Gurney’s play to Dumaguete audiences, set to be staged on February 23 at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium.

The play follows the life-long correspondence between Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (played by the incredible Bart Guingona) and Melissa Gardner (played by Pinky Amador). They are of the WASP set, that interesting subculture of America consisting mostly of upper middle class white Americans, who inhabit the good life. This is Gurney territory, and his more well-known plays, including The Dining Room, The Middle Ages, Richard Cory, The Golden Age, What I Did Last Summer, The Wayside Motor Inn, Sweet Sue, and The Perfect Party, cover the travails of this so-called “privileged class,” and often subjecting it to withering scrutiny—but always with a kind of affection. In Love Letters, we get a minor achievement in Gurney’s brand of social observation (he has written more powerful plays of the same ilk). Mel Gussow, writing for The New York Times, says that “within self-imposed limitations, [Love Letters] has dramatic assets. Written with Mr. Gurney’s customary authenticity, it becomes an often humorous Baedeker to a place and time, America—and an American elite—at midcentury.”

That sense of authenticity is what grounds the play for ordinary theatergoers, because—even if the characters are people from a background we can scarcely even begin to imagine (as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me…”)—they nevertheless embody something universally true about everyone regardless of class: we live to love, but that we often get blindsided by our own delusions to finally truly recognize it.

Andy (a staid, dutiful lawyer) and Melissa (a lively, unstable artist) write to each other beginning in childhood—through little notes and what-not. Because the play begins with that, we grow with them, and we grow with their story. That correspondence continues throughout the evolutions of their lives, never stopping even when the directions they decide to pursue individually take them away from each other. Little notes soon become long letters, sometimes just postcards and snapshots containing one-liners, all of which, taken together, chronicle each of their lives for the other. The fun part for the audience (and for the actors, as well) is reading in between those letters, and how one missive affects the other and extracts a truthful reaction.

And because this is a love story, it ends thus with the correspondence taking on a whole new meaning for our two characters who soon realize that what they’ve had all along—all these exchanges from childhood to adulthood—are love letters of a sort. The ending is also poignant for the paradox that the letters represent: as a medium of connection between two disparate souls, each letter also becomes the ultimate symbolic wedge that keeps them apart.

Love Letters is thus a story of connection, and trying to connect. It is also a story of marking down into something indelible the most whimsical of emotions.

And because it demands so much the demonstration of the unsaid or the unsayable, the play has become known in theater circles as one of the ultimate showcases for acting prowess. Grussow writes: “Not least of all, it is, in performance, a testimony to the actor’s art, a theatrical exercise in which actors, far more than in less schematic surroundings, have to draw upon their own intuitive resources—without the benefit of physical interaction or scenic effects—in order to create character and conflict.”

Thus, throughout its history (since it was first performed in 1988 at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut), Love Letters has showcased such star-studded pairings as Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, John Rubinstein and Joanna Gleason, Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards, Lynn Redgrave and John Clark, Stockard Channing and John Rubinstein, Jane Curtin and Edward Hermann, Kate Nelligan and David Dukes, Polly Bergen and Robert Vaughan, Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth McGovern, Swoosie Kurtz and Richard Thomas, Elaine Stritch and Cliff Robertson, Nancy Marchand and Fritz Weaver, Robert Foxworth and Elizabeth Montgomery, and a host of other actors such as Philip Bosco, Stephen Collins, Victor Garber, Julie Harris, George Grizzard, Anthony Heald, George Hearn, Richard Kiley, Dana Ivey, William Hurt, Marsha Mason, Christopher Reeve, Holland Taylor, George Segal, Christopher Walken, Treat Williams, and Frances Sternhagen. In the Philippines, Love Letters was first performed at the Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center, under the sponsorship of the Embassy of the United States. Aside from Guingona and Amador, it has been performed by notable theater actors as Audie Gemora and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Nonie Buencamino and Lara Fabregas, Jaime del Mundo and Josephine Roces, Michael Williams and Liza Infante, Chinggoy Alonzo and Sandy Hammett, and Paolo Fabregas and Miren Alvarez.

The play is the fifth event in the current cultural season sponsored by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee. The last show for the season is the U.P. Guitar Orchestra Concert on March 1. Tickets are available at the College of Performing Arts Office and the Luce Auditorium Office, and at the theater lobby before every show. For inquiries and ticket reservations, please call/contact Gang-gang at (035) 422-6002 loc. 520.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

entry arrow9:08 PM | Everybody is Sick

I started this week with a slight flu, or whatever. Sunday night, and there was that familiar dry scratchiness at the back of my throat that told me a bad case of colds or coughing was about to set in, and so I battled hard with the impending disaster with a regimen of Vitamin C, lots of water, Neozep, Tempra Forte, Pharmaton, and sleep. Everybody's sick, it seems. Even the American Idol girls, most of whom were just plain awful last night. And Barack Obama, too, but even when he blows into a Kleenex, he gets applause. (That's presidentiable quality, I tell you.) M. has head colds, too, and is eating lots of oranges. (I force him to shower constantly, and take Vitamin C.) I don't know what's up. The heat? The rain?

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entry arrow10:48 AM | What?

... It's Friday already?



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Thursday, February 21, 2008

entry arrow12:56 PM | Busy Psycho Day

God knows I'm dead tired from all the serious readings and the preparation. Then again, I procrastinated forever on this one, so it's largely my fault. I'm slated to give a talk later today for the Department of Psychology on "The Psychology of Blogging" for its latest Psychology Forum. (What's the statute of limitations for repeating the word "psychology"?) I'm centering my lecture on blogging motivation and blogging as a buffered communication space. (Sounds serious, no?) And I'm not even a psychologist! Yay. God knows why all three big lectures by me this year (which started with the PEN conference last December) have been all about blogging. And I don't even consider myself a serious blogger. But I'm doing this for three great friends, Bing and Margie and Oyen, so bahala na si Batman. On the other hand, I like what I have prepared so far. I just wish these things don't take so much out of me.

This week's increasingly shaping out to be a kind of hell week, what with so many papers to finish -- and then there are my classes. But I'm not complaining, I'm not complaining... I actually like being worked to my bones. It's so much better than watching American Idol.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

entry arrow10:10 PM | The Awful Truth

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

entry arrow9:29 PM | Lessons From the School of Inattention

If I own a major national daily, or if I were at least the editor of some newspaper's Lifestyle and Showbiz section, I'd quickly hire Francis Cruz as one of my chief film critics. In his film blog, Lessons From the School of Inattention (formerly Oggs' Movie Thoughts), we get intelligent, well-nuanced reviews to films past and present, written in a language almost reminiscent of Clinton Palanca doing food criticism. Sadly, there are only a few film critics like him working the dailies, and this tiny number includes Philippine Daily Inquirer's Gibbs Cadiz, Lito Zulueta, and Rito Asilo and BusinessWorld's Noel Vera (and when they feel like doing film reviews, also Philippine Star's Juaniyo Arcellana and Jessica Zafra, and PDI's Ruel De Vera).

The rest are hacks.

[There are some more gleefully hateful "tributes" here and here.]

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entry arrow4:45 PM | Patria Adorada

That her passing last February 9 seemed to have generated a conspicuous absence of remembrances in Silliman University or Dumaguete City is a shame unworthy of local history: the first Miss Silliman, Patria Obsequio Gonzaga, crowned in 1947, had passed away. She was 84.

It is understandably hard to give the proper obituary honors to a woman whom I barely know, except for the fact of the historical title she first wore. And yet nothing less than a tribute is worth somebody who first set out to redefine what, for many of us Sillimanians, are the (now admittedly queasy-sounding) “quintessence of the Silliman woman.”

Indeed, from the very start, the kind of queenly beauty that Patria Obsequio was instantly set apart the kind of pageants we hold in the name of Miss Silliman. This was no ordinary parade of beauties, we have continuously claimed of it: this was instead a celebration of feminine totality, foremost of which are the sharp faculties of having the kind of education one could have in this campus by the sea. Indeed, for most of its history, to be chosen Miss Silliman was to be paragon of fierce reckoning: you win the title not just for the superficial consideration of what is considered “pretty”; you win it because there is substance—and a fierce wit—behind all the glitter.

This was Patria Obsequio’s mark, and legacy.

She was not the country’s first pageant queen. There had always been, in beauty pageant-crazy Philippines, the traditional beauty titles even before Miss Silliman’s first bow in 1947: the annual coronation of the Carnival Queen that started in 1909 during the American colonial period was an even older pageant, and among the early Queens included Paz Marquez Benitez who would be considered as the mother of the Philippine short story in English, whose “Dead Stars” is distinguished as the earliest mature example of the genre. By 1939, on the eve of World War II, no more carnival queens were crowned.

The devastation of the war found a country in utter ruin, and Dumaguete was not spared from the smoke and the inhumanity of three years under Japanese military rule. And yet a certain positive spirit drove many of those who survived the war, and when Silliman reopened its gates to admit students, it saw a spike in enrollment it had never seen before. Part of that euphoria can be attributed to a genuine desire among many to build a better country after the war. Indeed, for Silliman, 1947 was a start of a golden age. It began flexing its muscles as a university of increasing renown that year. That was also the year the school organ, The Sillimanian, started soliciting manuscripts for a new folio titled Sands & Coral, jumpstarting Silliman’s distinguished literary reputation.

That was also the year The Sillimanian thought of sponsoring a new contest. In the 7 February 1947 issue of the paper’s newssheet, it was announced: “Silliman to Hold Popularity Contest.” The short article entailed that it would be a search for “the most popular coed in campus,” that it was open to all female students of Silliman, and that Park, Town (now Ever), and Lux Theaters were donating the prizes. Ballots could be had from the coming issue of the paper.

The ensuing days proved exciting, and the campus was thrown into a loop as it was besieged by a kind of fever unseen in Dumaguete. Balloting was a frenzy, and one after another, the various campus beauties were considered for the plum prize in huge campaigns waged by various student organizations and colleges. In the February 21 issue of the newssheet, it was finally declared that the College of Education’s Patria Obsequio, the “sweetheart of the Alpha Sigma Chi,” was elected Most Popular Coed with a total of 333 votes out of 1,084. She won a month’s worth of tickets to Park Theater (now Unitop), and won the hearts of the Dumaguete community, starting a tradition that would last sixty years. The College of Business Administration’s Zeny Cueva, with 252 votes, was adjudged the Cover Girl, and won movie tickets to Town Theater. Evelyn Gentilezo of the College of Education was Headline Girl with 149 votes, and won movie tickets to Lux Theater. It was, according to The Sillimanian, “a spirited battle of beauties and personalities.”

Why hold the contest? In his editorial in the following issue of the paper, The Sillimanian’s managing editor Ishmael M. Rodriguez explained the concept behind the whole exercise: “Popularity is the result of a successful adjustment to one’s fellows, which is precisely what a college education aims at the training of individuals, in order to give them the ability to adjust themselves successfully to such conditions and circumstances that they most need in this world.” The title holder, in other words, becomes iconic for how we successfully adapt ourselves for the success that we seek in the world. Patria Obsequio was that.

By the time 1948 rolled along, her title of Most Popular Coed had been changed to Miss Silliman University (with Leticia San Miguel as the next winner)—but the unique tradition that Ms. Obsequio began continued in the years since then. There are now 59 women who hold this title, each of them accomplished, a roster that would include Palanca Hall of Fame Awardee Elsa Martinez-Coscolluela, Carlisle Dans, Arlene Delloso-Uypitching, and Ninotschka Sierra-Yoldi.

In this simple recounting of biography, Patria Obsequio lived a good and blessed life. She was born in 8 October 1923 in Zamboanga City to Simeon Obsequio and Josefa Torralba, the middle child of seven—but even in childhood, she had always been considered the “star” of the family. She was a writer and a great speaker, and she played the piano proficiently. She also excelled tremendously in high school and college. She was popular and had many friends, and according to her family, “her strong sense of character was grounded by her faith in God that made her survived all the trials that come her way and been victorious.”

After she graduated magna cum laude from Silliman University, she married Samson Araneta Gonzaga, with whom she had seven children: Samson Jr. (married to Juliana Garcia), Eric Rolando, Josette (married to Dennis Gustilo), Simon Patrick, Natalie June (married to Rainier Guimera), Jorge Orlando, and Janine (married to Hector Cordero). She had twelve grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She was a devoted teacher, and for most of her life, she served faithfully and tirelessly as an officer and active member of various religious and civic organizations.

When I met Patria Obsequio for the first (and the last) time, it was 1996 and when we were celebrating the 50th year of Miss Silliman. We had, by then, reconceived a pageant that was fast showing its age, and when we realized that it was foolhardy to have a Miss Silliman pageant without taking note of its historical impact, we immediately thought of having the whole thing become a showcase of the various achievements of the Miss Silliman title-holders since its inception in 1947.

Of course that meant inviting Ms. Obsequio to come home once more to Dumaguete and take her rightful place as the queen who started it all. And suddenly, at the end of that year’s program, there she was, at the tail-end the parade of all the Miss Silliman winners that came after her. I knew that it was a momentous occasion that would never happen again. At the end of the crowning of CD Esguerra as the new Miss Silliman, I hurried to the stage to shake Patria Obsequio’s hand, and to welcome her back to the campus. When she smiled, I melted. Even I had to contend with the sudden, unexpected shivers of having touched a part of local history.

“Good evening, ma’am,” I said, “It is a great pleasure to have met you.” Indeed it was, for one always thinks of history as the wrinkling, sepia pages crumbling in our fingers, something remote and positively bygone. What else could be said than that plain confession of taking pleasure at having beheld history? There she was in front of me, the first Miss Silliman. It was a moment for all time.

And with her passing, we certainly remember Ms. Patria Obsequio with all our hearts.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

entry arrow1:01 PM | Passing the (Online) Torch

There was a time in my life when too much free time ruled much of my existence that I took on a daunting project to fill what I considered to be a void in the Internet: a portal of all things Philippine literature. That was 2001 (or 2003?), and I unleashed to the world something I called A Critical Survey of Philippine Literature. (It's now gone.) It was a popular venture, well-received, and I got all manners of writers and students who emailed to thank me for the effort. I made other related websites as well, most notably the unofficial Palanca Awards website.

It was fun, and I did it because I wanted to. Something else was propelling me to spend endless nights and days trying to keep the whole thing up-to-date, even if it meant watching the website grow into something much bigger than I had first conceived it to be. I made many friends and met so many people through that site, even to the point of becoming instrumental in some reunions between writer-friends.

Then life happened, and I got hitched, and I got deeper into work. That meant giving up all those free time tooling around the websites, and searching the Internet for all scraps of things from the Filipino literary imagination. Panitikan soon came around to continue the work I did on the main website (now with 3 million hits!), and now it looks like the Palanca Foundation has finally moved to make true its aim to have an Internet presence. I both feel happy and a little sad about all these -- happy that other people (who are better funded, and much more equipped) are finally doing something concrete to make Philippine literature more accessible to the world, and happy that I could say I had a tiny part in starting all these. But a little sad, too, because my babies are finally all grown up and leaving home to new abodes. Oh, well.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

entry arrow9:27 PM | The Top 10 Best Philippine Speculative Fiction of 2007

Electrick Twilight Boogaloo includes, at #3, my first attempt at the horror story, "The Flicker" (which Dean has included in Philippine Speculative Fiction 3), in his list of the Top 10 Best Philippine Speculative Fiction of 2007. (Thank, thanks!) The list includes stories by Douglas Candano, Chiles Samaniego, Kristin Mandigma, Joseph Nacino, Luis Joaquin Katigbak, Mia Tijam, Angelo Lacuesta, Dean Francis Alfar, and Paolo Chikiamco.

[via philippine genre stories]

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entry arrow9:01 PM | The Origin of Hacienda Carol-an

Literary goddess Rosario Cruz Lucero has a vignette in this weekend's issue of Sunday Inquirer Magazine, following similar vignettes from Dean Francis Alfar, Sarge Lacuesta, and yours truly. We have the wonderful Ruel De Vera to thank for this short short fiction project of SIM, and I do hope this will last. An excerpt from Ma'am Chari's story:

She was going after a giant crab in the forest when a lightning storm laid the hacienda at her feet. Thus begins the tale of the origin of Hacienda Carol-an.

“Tala,” her Inay had called to her, using a mahogany stick to prod the climbing crabs back to the bottom of the kettle, “go and catch the crab. That one is for the special guest we’re having today.” The smaller crabs had boosted their leader up to the rim of the kettle so that it had climbed out, scuttled to the door, taken each rung of the ladder with a sideways hop, and then weaved, pincers snapping belligerently, between pigs’ hooves and chicken feet toward the freedom of the woods.

Read the rest here.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

entry arrow10:34 AM | Tits and the Preacher Man

You know, of course, how they joke about many fundamentalists's all-too-obsessive regard of "immorality" (especially in matters of sexuality). It's quite unhealthy. What's more, it can be taken to be a perfect reflection of their own secret depravities -- hidden carnalities they try to exorcise by jumping on anyone and everyone, and tearing them apart in full righteous mode. So here's this one young preacher dude talking about the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, and then -- in perfect Freudian slip -- reveals the obsession that lies beneath his blond hair...

There you go, tit-man. I mean, "pinching his tits" for "pitching his tents"? Yay. That's gotta be worth three sessions with a shrink. Funny how he makes mention of two things in the end: First, "I hope this isn't on videotape... I have no job now." Whoops! There goes YouTube for you. And second, "What I'm saying is... sometimes... God has to be filled with justice." And to that, I say, "Amen. You sure got it, moralist."

Spread the video to the world!

[swiped from gibbs cadiz]

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

entry arrow10:26 PM | Amy Can't Top This and Other Things


Rehab certainly can be sexy. (Not sure if this is office-safe. But you want to click, don't you.)


The boys lost because Rovilson does not know his flags? Oh, bummer.


I still can't believe that somebody as bland and forgettable as Jordin Sparks won last year's most popular singing derby. (Then again, that batch -- save for Melinda Doolittle -- was probably the worst in American Idol history, ever. Two words: Sanjaya Malakar.) And so, despite my best efforts not to be lured in too much, and despite the fact that its age (seven seasons!) is definitely showing, this new batch of American Idol kinda got to me. I like them. And I'm glad a Filipina got in (Simon pronounces her name as "Rey--mee--yel--Ma--loo--bey," to which Ramiele goes, in perfect Pinoy-speak, "Ma--luu--ba--i."). And despite that strange wheezing sound between notes because of an old vocal paralysis, David Archuleta is cute as a button: you want to pinch or devour him, just because.

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entry arrow1:13 AM | For M.

Look, I got a vegan heart made of radish, just for you. Thank you for the five wonderful years. No day passes by that I don't thank heaven for what I have in you.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

entry arrow12:25 AM | Best Filipino Stories: The NVM Gonzalez Awards, 2000-2005

This was one book I'd been looking forward to getting ever since the idea was broached that all the winning stories of the annual NVM Gonzalez Awards would be compiled together in one volume. I did not realize that the book had been out in the market for some time now, until I received news of its launching only a few days back. Dear Janet sent me a copy, which I just got today (thanks, Janet!). This is what its says from the back cover: "Here are seventeen of the best short stories in English over the first six years of the NVM Gonzalez Awards... All of these stories are, says Gregorio C. Brillantes in his splendid Preface, 'astonishingly varied in vision, voice, mode, manner and consummation, ... each a vivid dream sustained by language; every one a shining performance." All are eminently worthy of NVM Gonzalez whom the Awards honor and memorialize because all [stories] 'display,' as Brillantes sas, 'the munificent range of the Filipino imagnation, its manifold secrets, discoveries and conglomeration." The book, edited by Brillantes and Gemino H. Abad, include stories by Menchu Aquino Sarmiento, Alfred Yuson, Charlson Ong, Socorro Villanueva, Rosario Cruz Lucero, Ma. L.M. Fres-Felix, April Timbol Yap, Antonio Hidalgo, H.O. Santos, Janet Baclayon Villa, Ian Rosales Casocot, Angelo Rodriguez Lacuesta, Arvin Mangohig, and Alexis Abola. The anthology is published by the University of the Philippines Press, and should be available in bookstores everywhere.

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entry arrow12:01 AM | April in Baguio

Looks like I'll be spending a week or so in Baguio this April. I'm Fellow for Fiction for the 2008 U.P. National Writers Workshop, together with Tara FT Sering and Luis Joaquin Katigbak (Fiction in English), Ana Maria Katigbak and Vincenz Serrano (Poetry in English), Rica Bolipata Santos (Creative Non-Fiction in English), Nicolas Pichay and Jun Lana (Drama in Filipino), Roberto Añonuevo and Frank Cimatu (Poetry in Filipino), and Abdon Balde Jr. and Allan Derain (Fiction in Filipino). Good company, most of them my friends. It will be a reunion with my Dumaguete batchmate Vince, and I can't wait to see Rica once again. And I can't wait to smell the pines, Frankie.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

entry arrow5:05 PM | Weekend Pain

I don't know what hit me Saturday. I had great plans for that day, including a lecture on Philippine poetry to start at 2 in the afternoon. But in the middle of waking up to a great sunny morning, still on my first cup of brewed coffee (a perfect blend of arabica and barako), the cycle of pain started coming in, my stomach suddenly a battleground of sorts. It was reminiscent of the amoebiasis I got from years back. I was doubling up the rest of the day, and I canceled everything, opting instead to lie on my bed until the dark hours. Sunday was no better, although I was able to go out for lunch with my mom. By the evening, the pain returned, in small does this time, but still a bit crippling. Today seems to mark out new territory in melancholy. Even Mark feels it, too. I shall hope for better tomorrows for the rest of the week. In the meantime, here's me trying to get better.


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Saturday, February 09, 2008

entry arrow8:41 AM | The Girl in the Dirty Shirt

Marguerite de Leon -- one of my favorite of the younger writers (she's only 22 years old, and she rocks!) -- blogs, and has apparently been blogging for some time now. One of my favorite crime stories is her marvelously chilly "Frozen Delight," which is anthologized in Dean's Philippine Speculative Fiction III. Here, Marguerite basically renders a story of unexpected mass murder ... using the things in your refrigerator's freezer.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

entry arrow7:50 AM | The Green Blood Author

Filipino-Australian fictionist Erwin Cabucos now blogs.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

entry arrow9:46 PM | The Lower House ... of Hell

Jackie Veloso-Antonio alerted me, through a curious text message, to the orgy in the pigsty last Monday: "Watch ANC, and see how our politicians are making a mockery of themselves," she wrote (and I paraphrase). What else is new? I asked myself -- but quickly remembered, from the snatches I took from the day's headlines, that Jose De Venecia's political career was about to go kaput in Congress sometime that day. And so I watched the televised proceedings, saw the slow motion bloodshed, and found I couldn't feel anything at all: I've always said we deserve the politicians we keep voting into office, and this one is a perfect example of us reaping what we've sown. But it wasn't even De Venecia's fall that made my heart sink. (I mean, if you sleep with wolves, you're bound to get bitten, eh?) It was the horribly tortured language that crept out of our con[gress]men's mouths that made me retch: every time someone went up the podium to air their reasons for their votes, they proceeded to murder the English language with such gusto, and some actually doing it thinking they were Cicero. I wanted to compile the grammatical pile-up, but I had no strength. Good think Sir Butch (Dalisay) had the patience to do that himself. Here's a sampling from his blog... quotable quotes from our bumbling legislators from the Lower House of Hell:

“We should vote to restore the damage which has been badly tarnished as far as the image of this house is concerned.”

“The fruits of our sacrifice is bearing fruit.”

“It is eminent that he will not be speaker in a few hour.”

And my favorite...

“Event has its own time, and time has its own events.” [The entire speech is actually worth the Arnel Salgado Purple Prose Award for Bad Writing.]

Oh, dear God. Who voted for these morons ba?

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entry arrow3:44 PM | Love and Lent

[an update on a previous post]

And just like that, it’s February. (It has barely begun for the most part, but as of this writing, we’re approaching the end of its first fifteen days fast—a testament to the month’s lightning quick consideration of days.) It is the shortest month of the year, but it carries with it a kind of gravity that makes it a month where pivotal things happen. The perceptive among us—those for which the days are never just dates on an impersonal calendar, and who are able to sit back and observe acutely how the times flow and rearrange the minutiae of our lives—may be in quiet celebration for having survived the testy beginning waters of January, a month where resolution and reality necessarily collide with each other. January was a battle. February is a most-needed return to sanity.

February is also a kind of reality check, a chance to reconsider the hopes and furious aspirations we laid bare for ourselves in the beginning of the year. February is when the year really starts for many of us, when we take note of the currents of our own Oriental bearings and hope for the best in the Year of the Rat. February is when things finally take root after the frost of New Year. For some, February is Arts Month, when the country bursts into a celebration for our cultural heritage. February is also the love month—and that takes care of the sentimental reaches of our lives. February also marks the beginning of Lent—and that takes care of the spiritual.

I love February for its gentle days. (At least, that’s how February is in the slow motion of Dumaguete.) There are certainly winter chills in China now, and elsewhere the severe cold has just began to wreck havoc on what is often considered the coldest month of the year. Forgive me then for knowing only this: suddenly, last Tuesday in fact, the first day of summer has seemingly arrived in Dumaguete, and by the weekend, that intimation of beaches and frolic continue unabated.

Last Tuesday, I was leaving the Audio Visual Theater after Myrna Peña-Reyes’s most insightful lecture on the writing and reading of modern poetry, when I sensed something both different and familiar: I felt the February sun tripping on my skin in that most gentle of nipping absent for most of the year (but becomes a cocoon of sorts at the height of Maytime).

People in Dumaguete know very well that I am not talking about your regular, ordinary hot day where the sun is content with its bland and ruthless campaign to burn everything. They know that the sun becomes poetry during summer days in Dumaguete, and its shine has its own flavor only the true native can discern: the heat is of an underwhelming sort, something that comes as an embrace rather than an oppression; there is a certain stillness everywhere that engulfs—but not entirely devours—everybody into a sweet kind of narcolepsy; and the slant of the sunlight on everything gives the whole city a sepia glow. Last Tuesday was the first day of such manifestations. And I think: this may be a great day to be alive, in Dumaguete, with that promise of summer just around the bend. I like February, because it brings with it that promise of the eventual end of a hectic schoolyear (especially for a teacher like me), and because it is the very portal to summer.

But there’s something else about February—a paradox of some sort—that I discovered I liked. Around last Wednesday, I was having coffee—alone—in a little café somewhere in the city, trying to think up something to say about Valentines for this post. (The bane for regular bloggers is trying to say something about current seasons.) It was a most hopeless pursuit, and I kept telling myself: What else is there left to write about love, and loving, and Valentines Day? I could tread on old grounds, but I am not one to repeat myself in this post—and I certainly did not want to end up writing a mushy piece about a most mushy season.

In the middle of sipping my coffee mocha, I was snapped out of my writing quandary when a friend approached to tell me: “Advanced Happy Valentines Day!” She said it with such gusto. She also said it with a strange mark on her forehead—a dash of ash that quickly told me this was no ordinary Wednesday. It was the mark of the start of Lent. Those two things combined—the ash mark on my friend’s forehead and her gleeful Valentine greeting— dawned on me as being particularly curious.

It struck as being both particular strange and appropriate that the whole Valentine season should fall somewhere near the beginning of Lent—only a week or so after the orgiastic revelry of Fat Tuesday and the beginning fast of Ash Wednesday. The whole parade towards the high holy days of March for most of Christendom includes, if you really come to think about it, this brief interlude when “love” becomes the centerpiece of everybody’s consideration.

Suddenly, even with the somber promise of Lent, there is this mid-February rush for flowers. Suddenly, there is competition for tables still available in the gamut of restaurants that dot the city. (The ones that are more decidedly romantic are quickly blanketed with iron-clad reservations that can make for a case of a heart attack.) Suddenly, there is a run for those bars of chocolate. And motel rooms. Suddenly, there is a barrage of love songs filling the air as one radio station after another competes to saturate all of us with the mushiness that comes with the season.

The Lenten season, though, is a period of sacrifice. The fact of Valentines Day occurring within it may demand from all of us a kind of redefinition of its celebration. For what is love really but the human ability to sacrifice for the sake of something we feel for, and truly believe in? In the most excruciating example of this spiritual dimension of loving, we have the final scene of Lent—that of Christ on the cross—sacrificing his life for the sake of mankind.

And on that note, I finished drinking my coffee. And (advanced) Happy Valentines Day to one and all.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

entry arrow6:08 AM | LitCritters Dumaguete No. 26

Next Saturday

Paul's Case by Willa Cather
The Problem of Cell 13 by Jacques Futrelle
A Retrieved Reformation by O. Henry
Haircut by Ring Lardner

Last Saturday

A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury
To Build a Fire by Jack London
The Spectacles by Edgar Allan Poe
Tangled Notes in Watermelon by Diane Curtis Regan

Last, last Saturday

Frozen Delight by Marguerite Alcarazen de Leon
Logovore by Joseph Nacino
A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell
A Place I've Never Been by David Leavitt

The LitCritters is a reading and writing group based in Manila (moderated by Dean Francis Alfar) and Dumaguete. Every week, we read and discuss several pieces of short fiction from various genres from different writers with the goal of expanding our reading horizons, improving our ability to critique, and learning how to write from the good texts. In addition to speculative fiction, we read Philippine literature in English, as well as world literature. The Dumaguete Group meets every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Silliman University President's Home.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

entry arrow1:20 PM | And Suddenly, Summer

There are certainly winter chills in China now, and elsewhere, the cold has just began to wreck havoc on the coldest month of the year -- but suddenly the first day of summer has arrived in Dumaguete. I was leaving the Audio Visual Theater after Myrna Pena-Reyes' most insightful lecture this morning on the writing and reading of modern poetry, when I sensed something both different and familiar: I felt the sun tripping on my skin in that most gentle of nipping absent for most of the year, but becomes a cocoon of sorts at the height of Maytime. I'm not talking about your regular, ordinary hot day where the sun is merely content with its ruthless campaign to burn everything: the sun becomes poetry during summer days in Dumaguete, and its shine has its own flavor only the true native can discern: the heat is of an underwhelming sort, something that comes as an embrace rather than an oppression; there is a certain stillness everywhere that engulfs -- but not entirely devours -- everybody into a sweet kind of narcolepsy; and the slant of the sunlight on everything gives the whole city a sepia glow. Today is the first day of such manifestations. And I think: what a great day to be alive, in Dumaguete, with that promise of summer just around the bend.

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entry arrow8:53 AM | The River Singing Stone

By Myrna Peña-Reyes

Through brush and over boulders
we followed the sound of water
hidden in trees.
The natives we met on the narrow trails
carrying chickens and bananas
to sell in the city answered,
“the waterfall? — not too far,
after the next hill.”
We walked to the hill, and the next,
and the next.

You were annoyed.
You had said you would find it easily,
having gone there often in your youth.

We stopped counting the hours,
kilometers we walked uphill and down,
forward and back, pursuing that sound.
We couldn’t just follow the river –
there were boulders, thickets, cliffs,
and we, no longer young.

Winded and sweaty, we rested.
Such trickery – was it near,
did we hear the roar of the falls,
or just the sound of water
pounding rocks into pebbles,
grinding gravel into sand?

But it was late.
We had to go home.
We listened
to the river singing,
the river singing stone.

The acclaimed poet Myrna Peña-Reyes will have a lecture on the writing and reading of modern poetry today at 10 am, Audio-Visual Theater 1 at the Multimedia Center in Silliman University. This is part of the year-long Albert Faurot Lecture Series on Culture and the Arts sponsored by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee.

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