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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, May 29, 2009

entry arrow7:56 PM | The Last Days of Summer

So we make plans for the coming days. The summer will be ending by the time the weekend springs to a close. I tell a friend I am ready for one last fling with adventure, while we still could call the days as very much a part of Maytime. "A Sunday in Siquijor?" I tell him over afternoon coffee in Don Atilano, while I nurse a broken heart and while I finish the script for a short film we will be making starting on Monday.

Slow Friday afternoons are made for such delicate juggling acts.

My friend says yes, and proceeds to call a friend whom he thinks can join us for the day trip. "Always best to have someone else to tag along, right?"

I shrug and then nod. What else can one give as answer? I am only aware of the days slipping by. Was it only yesterday when we celebrated the cool of January? When did it become June, the middle of the year? So we scramble to make sense for what remains of the year -- and we mentally consider the things we have planned to do and finish for the year. Time is running out.

"What if we get left behind by the last boat though?" I ask casually, while tapping my fingers over this very same keyboard I am using now. The coffee and the cigarettes have dulled the slow aching deep within my chest -- and I am able to breathe a little easy.

"Then we leave early Monday," he says.

"That sounds like a plan."

"What time do we have the production meeting on Monday?" he asks.

"About ten-ish," I say.

"We can still make it, I guess."

"What about tonight?"

"It's the last Friday night of the summer."

"So, it's dancing in El Camino then."

"I guess."

"I guess."

"What else is there?"

"There's Payag."

"Over my dead body."

"There's Hayahay."

"Which is still something we can do before dancing in El Camino."

"I need to work on some things tomorrow though."

"Me, too."

"Let's not stay out too much."

"We've said similar things before."

"This time let's mean it."



I look at the distant blue in the horizon, and it must have been the kick of the fourth cup of coffee, but I swear I can hear God laugh.


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entry arrow2:06 PM | On a Pause

1. I've decided not to Facebook for a while. I've deactivated my account temporarily, just to see how I can live through the withdrawal that will rock my minutes in the coming days. Facebook was virtually taking over my life -- and while I still love that social networking platform and all that it can do, I did not like the sinking feeling at the gut of everything that most of my days seemed geared for Facebook moments. (Camwhoring at the beach! Pang-Facebook album! A sudden witticism! Pang-Facebook status! and all that jazz...) It was getting pathetic.

2. Of course, it also means this: I had my heart broken again. For the second time in less than a year. That has got to be some sort of record for me. Heartbreaks like this do give you pause. About what it all means. Why we submit ourselves to the same dogged pursuit of what Paz Marquez Benitez has called "the light of dead stars, long extinguished, yet seemingly still in their appointed places in the heavens." What the f***k was I doing? I don't want to love again. Kapoy na.

3. Work. Work will save you.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

entry arrow8:12 AM | On a Blog Break.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

entry arrow4:53 AM | Dante Wins Best Director in Cannes!

Wow. Now look what we've got here. Despite mixed reviews that went from scathing and spiteful to spirited, Brillante Mendoza made Philippine cinema history by winning the Best Director prize for Kinatay in the 2009 Cannes Film Festival! He has bested other legendary directors including Pedro Almodovar, Quentin Tarantino, Jane Campion, and Alan Resnais!

His acceptance speech goes: "First of all I would like to thank the selection committee, who are responsible for bringing my films here for the past three years. And now with an award for Best Director, I would like to thank the Jury. And of course I’d like to thank my producer; thank you for the trust and faith in my films. I’d like to thank also a very committed staff and crew. I’d like to share this award with my daughter, Angelica, who has always been my number one critic and to an actor I really respect, Coco Martin. Thank you all for embracing my kind of cinema."

The awards were presented Sunday, chosen by a jury headed by French Actress Isabelle Huppert. The Palme d'Or went to The White Ribbon, directed by Austria's Michael Haneke, the Grand Prize to A Prophet, directed by France's Jacques Audiard, the Jury Prize to Fish Tank, directed by Britain's Andrea Arnold and Thirst, directed by South Korea's Park Chan-wook. Christoph Waltz won Best Actor for Inglourious Basterds, from the United States, and Charlotte Gainsbourg was Best Actress for the Danish film Antichrist. Best Screenplay went to China's Feng Mei for Spring Fever, and the Camera d'Or (which is given to a first-time director) went to Australia's Warwick Thornton for Samson and Delilah, while Best Short Film went to Portugal's Arena, directed by Joao Salaviza. A Special Prize, meanwhile, went to cinema legend Alain Resnais.

Full story here. Richard Corliss, for Time, gives a roundup.

This has been a good year for Filipino film, Cannes-wise, what with three films in three separate competitions and screenings (aside from Kinatay, we had Raya Martin's Independencia in Un Certain Regard, and Adolfo Alix Jr. and Raya Martin's Manila had a Special Screening!

Congratulations, Dante! Pero, after Serbis and Kinatay, maiba naman next time, please?


Watch the entire awards telecast here. Follow the comments thread in AwardsDaily here. Read one of the positive notices for the film from Screen Daily's Mike Goodridge. Watch a clip from Kinatay below:

A longer excerpt can be found here.

Wouldn't it be great if we could actually see the film soon, and judge for ourselves? That is, if the censors will even let us.

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entry arrow4:00 AM | Book Tax is Scrapped!

Here's another good news after Mendoza's Cannes win: the tax on book import has just been scrapped by Malacañang.

According to Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, “The President wants books to be within reach of the common man. She believes reading as an important value for intellectual formation, which is the foundation of a healthy public opinion necessary for a vibrant democracy.” Okaaayyy. Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said the department will immediately comply, but "however said that revenue generation was not the main reason for the import duties but to clarify regulations on book imports as provided by the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines." Whatever. (But what actually dismays me more is the fact that back here in Negros Oriental, where Sec. Teves is from, nobody -- not a single local newspaper -- carried the story of the book blockade.)

Full story here.

The full timeline here, courtesy of Manuel L. Quezon III.

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entry arrow3:10 AM | It's Towel Day


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Sunday, May 24, 2009

entry arrow4:27 PM | Have a Good Trip, Ernie

By Susan Lara

Last week in Dumaguete, Ernie Yee and I were on our way to have lunch with writing fellows Joy Rodriguez, Bea Nakpil, Gabe Millado, and NCCA's Sol Corong, when we bumped into one of Ernie's former students, now himself a lawyer. Ernie introduced me the way he always introduced me to his colleagues and friends: "my best friend."

As for me, I always introduced him to my friends as "my sister"--that's a few notches above "best friend." We were so close that Dad Ed Tiempo, who called him "Son," and who couldn't bear to think of Ernie growing old alone and lonely ("like Albert Faurot") had hoped that we would "you know... be together... you both have excellent genes, it would be a waste not to pass them on." We both found it hilarious, but even Ernie, famous for his guffaws, could only smile and say, "what are you saying, Dad? She's my sister!"

But Dad could be incorrigible. One day he kept harping on the subject so that Ernie, just to stop him, said, "All right Dad, IF I ever marry, it will be Susan Lara and no one else." And just as Dad was breaking into a smile of triumph and satisfaction, Ernie turned to me and said, "So how about it, Sue? Good music, good conversation, good food--and no sex!"

It is hard to believe that barely a week after we said goodbye, he is gone. I'm going to miss that brand of humor, and his generous laughter. In fact, he was generous with everything he had--time, energy, talent, yes, even money--in everything he did, as writer, as pianist, as panelist in the National Writers Workshop (and for several years, as Workshop coordinator), as lawyer, as RTC clerk of court, as friend.

Mom Edith depended on Ernie not only for her legal affairs but also for her financial and personal affairs. It is a measure of how important he was to Mom that after we recovered from the shock over his death, our next concern was Mom, expressed in many different ways: "Paano na si Mom?" "How is Mom taking it?" "Hope Mom is okay." Butch Macansantos said "I fear for Mom." But it was Krip who said it best: "Oh, poor Mom!"

When Dad died, Ernie was the first among Dumaguete writers to rush to Mom's side. When I called up Mom to see how she was holding up, she said, "Ernie is right here. He is shining Dad's shoes." There was nothing he considered unworthy of his attention, if it was for Mom and Dad, and the Workshop, and the other people he cared about.

Yesterday, Grace Monte de Ramos sent a text message from Dumaguete: "Juaniyo said he hopes someone is shining Ernie's shoes now, the way he shined Dad's." That just about broke my heart, because I would've wanted to do that for him. It was the very least I could do for someone who gave joy to so many through his writing and his music. Because even though he stopped playing the piano a few years ago because of his arthritic fingers, he continued to provide music through his poetry.

And we'll keep hearing that music over and over, for as long as we live.

Have a good trip, Ernie. We shalll light and ease your way home with prayers.

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entry arrow3:40 AM | The Turning of the Leaf

I had a surfeit of epiphanies tonight. It was like everything I had been looking for was suddenly made clear to me in the space of a few hours, one after the other, but with the finesse and flow of moonlight caressing the calm night sea. What I would cherish most is that these were answers to things in my life that were finally devoid of sentimentality, false memory, and bullshit -- and in the final analysis, I believe I have come to a place in my being where I can truly say I am very happy. Because I know, and I can do something about it still. And so, here I am, very ready to get on to the next phase of my life. It will be a wonderful new adventure. See you all at the other end of the rainbow!


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Saturday, May 23, 2009

entry arrow6:08 PM | Ernesto Superal Yee, 56

Dumaguete poet and fictionist Ernesto Superal Yee died this morning in his bed in Tanjay, from what appears to be a heart attack. His wake will be in St. Peter's in Bacong, south of Dumaguete, starting tonight for two days. Only less than a week ago, he had finished paneling for the second week stretch of the 48th Silliman National Writers Workshop -- but missed the Fellows' Culmination Night in Lab-as because he was with Rosario Cruz-Lucero, in the lobby of her hotel, where, according to Ma'am Chari, he told her the story of his life. On our way to the airport, Chari told Susan Lara and me, "Kasi akala nya na di na kami magkikita." How eerily right she was.

In memory of Ernie, I am presenting a poem he submitted to the latest edition of Dark Blue Southern Seas...

Photo Albums

Forever fascinated in your collections of sepias,
black-and-whites, colored photos of silenced laughter,
stilled awkwardness of adolescents, the old leaning.
I remember watching you in that rocking chair
by the open window flipping the album, looking
for something you might have neglected or forgotten.
I waited until a smile slowly lit up your face:
found what you missed after so many pages.
I came to you. We searched in the tableaux
of dearest faces the gone, the ones still at the threshold
of living, the others about to leave the doors of home.
Time and again, reminded me to keep these albums.
After so many fires and storms, they have survived,
like you, who, through these silent pictures,
taught me that when heart and mind somehow falter,
bring these photographs to your favorite spot.
Open the book. Let the soft brush of light touch
these windows of the past: they offer a clearer view.

Clash of the Bull and the Frog has a good post about his memory of the poet.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

entry arrow11:17 AM | The Literature of All Our Dumaguete Memories


It is a Thursday when I write these lines. And it is almost the end of the world.

Well, maybe not exactly; but I am sure that for fifteen young writers right now—Ynna Abuan, Jonathan Gonzales, Arkaye Keirulf, Petra Magno, Niño Manaog, Keith Bryan Cortez, Ana Margarita Stuart del Rosario, Monique Francisco, Stan Geronimo, Aleck Maramag, Gabriel Millado Bea Nakpil, Joy Rodriguez, Philip Kimpo Jr., and Marck Ronald Rimorin—it might as well be.

In Gabby's Bistro, with the panelists for the first week stretch.
From left: Ian Rosales Casocot, J. Neil Garcia, Gemino Abad, Sarge Lacuesta, and Mookie Katigbak

The fabulous J. Neil Garcia

Philippines Free Press literary editor Sarge Lacuesta

Gemino Abad, Myrna Peña-Reyes, and Krip Yuson

Carla Pacis, Tara FT Sering, and J. Neil Garcia

I speak in hyperbole, of course—but I can imagine all of them feeling something like this: that there is one more day left, and, almost without warning, a summer of stories and essays and poems, and literary duels (with panelists Myrna Peña-Reyes, Gémino Abad, César Ruìz Aquino, Susan Lara, J. Neil Garcia, Sarge Lacuesta, Rosario Cruz Lucero, Ernesto Superal Yee, Juaniyo Arcellana, and guest-writers Krip Yuson, Padmapani Perez, Tara FT Sering, Mookie Katigbak, and Carla Pacis), and forging new literary friendships will be over.

Joy Rodriguez

Stan Geronimo

Myrna Peña-Reyes

Ynna Abuan

Monique Francisco

Rosario Cruz-Lucero and the late Ernesto Superal Yee

Susan Lara and Ernesto Superal Yee

Padma Perez in Hayahay

Ian Rosales Casocot, Padma Perez, and Susan Lara in Lab-as

Mookie Katigbak and Tara Sering in El Dorado in Dauin

It’s familiar territory. All of us have felt this gnawing acknowledgment of summer’s end—all of us who have been writing fellows in Asia’s longest-running creative writing workshop, founded by Edilberto Tiempo and National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo in 1961. And there are hundreds of us, most comprising shining names in contemporary Philippine literature.

Philip Kimpo

Aleck Maramag

Off Antulang Beach Resort

On board the Annabelle Lee

Maoui Stuart del Rosario

Bea Nakpil

Jonathan Gonzales

Juaniyo Arcellana

Gabriel Millado

Coming to Dumaguete has long been considered a veritable rite of passage for young writers in the country. And yet those of us who have been through the Tiempo tutelage know that it is also more than just that. Because what seems to separate it from other workshops of its kind in the Philippines is the way it commands such fierce loyalty to the memories of one summer. (That feeling, and that memory, will last a lifetime.) So many stories, so many poems, so many essays have tried to explain, over the years, exactly why this is so—and I can very well call this a veritable literature of memory. A memory of a place. A memory of a summer where things started one off with one as a writer with a deeper sense of the literary.

Arkaye Kierulf and Petra Magno

Chari Lucero

Keith Cortez

Niño Manaog

Marck Rimorin

As I write this, I am on my third cup of coffee in Café Noriter—which is Korean for “playground”--and right outside the glass windows of the small café, things do come into a kind of play in a city sweltering in gentility and the humid sun: the traffic of Dumaguete’s tricycles grows by the minute; people of all color come and go in a babble of Korean, English, French, German, Cebuano, and Farsi; and daytime inevitably passes by like a dream.

Soon it will be night. And somewhere near Escaño Beach, the beginning strains of folk music will issue out of Hayahay—it is a Thursday night, after all; on Wednesdays, it will be the sound of bisaya reggae—and here, the poet Mickey Ybañez holds court like a loquacious jester with long hair. In Gabby’s Bistro or in Boston Café or in Jo’s, the diners are gearing up for a meal of chicken adobo or Tuscan pork chop or chicken inato. In the seaside Boulevard, the night joggers are marking out their territory as one by one, the harsh orange light of the streetlamps and the neon signs of the cafes and restaurants that dot the acacia-shaded stretch flicker into being. Daytime passes.

May-time passes, all too quickly.

And one easily realizes that summer days are incredibly short in Dumaguete—especially if you are a fellow in the National Writers Workshop: what once seemed like a promise of excruciating eternity in the very beginning is soon dispelled by the very real promise of a surprisingly quick end. It used to be a three-week creative writing workshop; but for 2009, in a two-week edition that may not make sense for many alumni, the end becomes even all the more quick.

In Lalimar, La Libertad

Reggae Wednesday in Hayahay

Culmination Night in Lab-as

Anthony Tan and Susan Lara in a scene from a new teleserye

I write of the things above because all these will have become part of the fellows’ collective memory of Dumaguete. It will be the only tangible thing they will share together. (Perhaps they will also share fervent promises: to come back soon, very soon, to relive it all.) These will be fodder for their conversations to come: what one did in the dark hallways of Harold’s Mansion; what the other did in the bright witchcraft of a sunshine in Siquijor; what one did in the swimming pool of LaLiMar after a deadly bus ride through “Mexico”; what the other did in the cramped dancing space in Hayahay; what one did aboard Annabelle Lee as it cruised the blue waters of Tambobo Bay; and what the other did at the end of a katay session in Katipunan Hall. And how they all drank, and laughed, and camwhored each other’s precious minutes! Of course, they will also certainly remember how two short weeks taught them how to be better writers, and even more so, as good readers.

As a Dumaguete native, I am privileged to be, through sheer accident of geography, an eternal balik-fellow. And I will always find it interesting to read what others take away from my hometown and its famed workshop. I have been in many editions of the workshop in this decade, and each batch is always different from the others: some are more interesting in peculiar ways; some are wilder; some are surprisingly sedate; and some are simply astounding for the sheer collective power of their talent. The Class of 2009 is one I will certainly be watching out for in the coming months and years

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

entry arrow9:24 PM | Getting the Message

By Vincenz Serrano

In the morning Ada sends Roy a note
by cellphone. It arrives only at dinnertime.
Where do all the words stay all day?
And it isn’t just Ada who complains:
Prixie too, and Bj. They get home before
their words do. Words go everywhere:

I’m coming over wait for me perches
on the shoulders of a cashier counting
change, hahaha nice joke sticks between
the lettuce and tomato of an Aloha Burger,
I love you drive safely floats on the sewers
and spills out into the sea. No one knows

exactly where these texts are, the way no one
sees mayas go to die. A message may linger
in air like a flying kiss, then the wind blows
it back to one’s face. A kiss is complete
only in another’s mouth and tongue, like how
a writer needs a listener for the words

to be whole, like when the mad talk
to themselves and set speech adrift in air
only to drown in the loneliness of no one
listening. Yet Ada’s message arrives.
Roy shows it to her, the words laid out
in the little coffin of the cellphone.

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entry arrow5:26 PM | The NCCA Writers Prize 2010

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts announces that the NCCA Writers’ Prize is now open for application by Filipino writers. The NCCA Writers’ Prize a biennial grant awarded to five writers, one for each of the following categories: Poetry (Ilocano language), Novel (Filipino language), Essay (Kapampangan language), and Drama (Cebuano language/Bicolano language). The grant, in the amount of TWO HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS gross, will assist the Grantee during the writing stage of the project. The grant is good for one year, after which a manuscript of the writing project will be submitted to the NCCA for possible publication or staging. For details, please click here.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

entry arrow12:11 PM | Being Onion-Skinned, Roger Ebert, and Kinatay in Cannes

I kinda berated myself after incessantly blogging about the hostile reviews of Brillante Mendoza's Serbis in Cannes last year. After a few days of doing that, I thought Mendoza finally didn't deserve the clawing: being in Cannes was honor enough -- and I didn't even see Serbis to merit what I did.

But Roger Ebert, a film critic I hold in such high esteem, now calls Kinatay (Mendoza's latest entry to the Main Competition) the worst film ever screened in Cannes history. Or more precisely: "Here is a film that forces me to apologize to Vincent Gallo for calling The Brown Bunny the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival."


I don't know what to say -- and I won't say anything at all, with the film still sight unseen by me.

What I want to say though is this: some of the Filipino commenters in Ebert's blog post on Kinatay are so embarrassingly dramatic. Histrionic even. Nakakahiya. Read them and weep for our thin-skinned-ness.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

entry arrow4:59 PM | Amusement Park

One has to admire the cocky display of intellectual masturbation of the very, very young. They're so cute! They mouth off theory and obscure cultural references with the gusto of fireworks -- the way we used to do it. But yes! We were once like them. Now, time has thankfully mellowed us and has proven that all that posturing is at best ultimately silly -- and the only way to go about it, especially when you encounter it again in people half-a-decade younger, is to smile and thank God there was no Facebook then to document all that silliness.

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entry arrow3:48 AM | Date Night

I love that you're my secret. And I'd like to keep you that way.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

entry arrow10:20 PM | Call for Submissions to Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 5

Editors Nikki Alfar and Vin Simbulan are now accepting submissions of short fiction pieces for consideration for the anthology Philippine Speculative Fiction V.

Speculative fiction is the literature of wonder that spans the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror and magic realism or falls into the cracks in-between.

1. Only works of speculative fiction will be considered for publication. As works of the imagination, the theme is open and free.

2. Stories must cater to an adult sensibility. However, if you have a Young Adult story that is particularly well-written, send it in.

3. Stories must be written in English.

4. Stories must be authored by Filipinos or those of Philippine ancestry.

5. Preference will be given to original unpublished stories, but previously published stories will also be considered. In the case of previously published material, kindly include the title of the publishing entity and the publication date. Kindly state also in your cover letter that you have the permission, if necessary, from the original publishing entity to republish your work.

6. First time authors are welcome to submit. In the first four volumes, we had a good mix of established and new authors. Good stories trump literary credentials anytime.

7. No multiple submissions. Each author may submit only one story for consideration.

8. Each story’s word count must be no fewer than 1,500 words and no more than 7,500 words.

9. All submissions must be in Rich Text Format (.rtf – save the document as .rft on your word processor) and attached to an email to this address: nikkialfar@gmail.com. Submissions received in any other format will be deleted, unread.

10. The subject of your email must read: PSF5 Submission: (title) (word count); where (title) is replaced by the title of your short story, without the parentheses, and (word count) is the word count of your story, without the parentheses. For example – PSF5 Submission: Meeting Makiling 4500.

11. All submissions must be accompanied by a cover letter that includes your name, brief bio, contact information, previous publications (if any). Introduce yourself.

12. Deadline for submissions is October 15, 2009. After that date, final choices will be made and letters of acceptance or regret sent out via email. Target publishing date is February 2010.

14. Compensation for selected stories will be 2 contributor’s copies of the published anthology as well as a share in aggregrate royalties.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

entry arrow1:27 PM | Tonton’s Tour Through the Mangroves

Fourth of Six Parts

[read part 1 here | part 2 here | part 3 here]

In the daylight, the scene of the dance looks remarkably different: the basketball court has returned to its concrete nothingness—no hint of the tinsels and the festive air that had occurred there only two nights before. Even the stage looks forlorn and jagged. Without the satin draperies that had given it a kind of kitschy elegance, it was merely a skeleton of unfinished hollow blocks laid on top of each other. Around the basketball court, one could now easily make out now the small, small village that comprised the whole barrio: only a few families huddled in nipa houses, all lined up as a kind of receiving end of the long dirt road that connected the place to the bigger community of the poblacion many kilometers off, all living off the river as fishermen and sometimes as guides for foreigners and other tourists wanting more than the usual sun and surf.

We had already met the young man the rest of the village called Nene—a strapping leech who was as dark as charcoal, who tried hard to speak to us in English, who tried hard to come off as somebody you could easily count on to make things happen for you while you dreamed up of things to do during a lazy week on a beach. He tried hard—but underneath all that affability, there was something hard and pushy in his deals and ideas that seemed slightly, if not menacing then desperate. You have no change for a karaoke session? he could say, for example. No worries. You can always come back tomorrow with the money. Come, let’s sing.

You want a case of beer for the bonfire? No worries. I’d get the case for you—and carry it all the way to the beach. How much is a bottle of beer? Thirty-five pesos. (The beer, we learn later on, actually cost only P30.)

You want a tour around the mangroves? No worries. I could take you the whole day for P1,300. (The resort, we actually knew much earlier on, gives the exact same tour—plus lunch—for P900.)

He had deals—all overpriced—for snorkeling, for exploring distant busays (waterfalls), for a paddle-ride in nearby mangroves, for massages. “Just tell me what you need,” he would say, “and I know how to get them just for you.”

But you could not fault him too much for his foxy sense of opportunity, because there was indeed money to be made—and so we knew only to humor him, but for the rest, we were on the lookout for more honest deals: and that was how we bumped into Jestoni—whose nickname was Tonton—a small teenager of effortless charm and lilting Hiligaynon, whose father was a local fisherman. We had caught him just in time during a small excursion to Gil Montilla, and he had given us the short bangka ride from Langub to the rest of Nauhang.

It was already almost late in the afternoon when we came back, past four o’clock, and Tonton was still by the riverbank waiting for us. “I’ve always wanted to explore this stretch of river,” Edwin tells him in passable Hiligaynon. “Can you take us down there?”

“Into the mangroves?” Tonton asked.

“Those are mangroves?”

“Yes—although that’s not the one most of the tourists go to. They only go to the mangroves on the other side of the cove.”

“Let’s go down this one,” we said. “How much do you charge ba, Ton?”

The boy demurred, as the shy ones always do—and Edwin set a reasonable price: P50 for an hour or so of exploration—and P100 if he paddled slowly. That was certainly better than waiting for the occasional (very meager) traffic to cross Nauhang to Langub for P5 per head.

What we had was a boat ride of utter loveliness—a cruise down a green, gentle, narrow river flanked on both sides by beautiful mangroves. There was a kind of poetry in their submergence—and more poetry in the way we were drowned by the sheer quiet of the adventure. Only the occasional hoot and twitter of distant birds told us there was such thing as sound in this world.

Tonton paddled slowly as we made our way deep into the river. The mangroves soon proved to be an intricate maze suitable only for the initiated. We turned one bend, only to arrive many slow moments later into forks in the flow. We turned towards one bend, and it led to more byways—and soon we all surrendered our bearings to our bangka paddler, who assured us, with a mischievous smile, that he knew this green world like the back of his hands. “I will take you to the very dead end, where the river stops,” he said, smiling.

At the end, we came into a natural pool bordered on all ends by coral rock and submerged palm trees. In the short distance, we could see the beginnings of a forest, and then the plummet of mountain rising high. “This is beautiful,” Edwin said.

I could only nod—it was indeed beautiful, and the play of the late afternoon light shimmering in the water gave it an even more distinct adjective that would be the death of any cynic: it was romantic. We spent the rest of the ride being silent, contemplating only the flow of the river, and the hushing sounds the water made as Tonton’s paddle struggled to give our small boat the kick and direction we needed to get back to where we originated—to the village.

(To be continued…)

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entry arrow1:10 PM | A Bayle in Nauhang

Third of Six Parts

[read part 1 here | read part 2 here]

Sleep is one thing I have not done in abundance ever since my sojourn in Sugar Beach began. I catch up with little power naps stolen during late afternoon hours between a dip in the sea and a session of writing or reading. (Mostly writing. Sugar Beach is surprisingly conducive to writing.) Sprawled on a strategically situated lounge chair or hammock, with the requisite shade from the overgrown firecracker and palm trees that shield out the harshest of the warm sun, I find it easy to just drift out while the surf provides the soundtrack to what dreams I have. I don’t remember much of what I dream though: all I remember of sleep in Sugar Beach is a comfortable blankness that feels restful.

Most nights we spend drinking beer and having bonfires. Edwin has befriended a bevy of young locals to create a veritable architecture of dried palm fronds, a mere kindling of which set ablaze the whole thing into a towering pillar of fire. The sudden brightness illuminates the walls of coral rock that tower over us—and in the drinking that follows, they sing, they play stupid games, they talk nonsense. Most nights, I just watch them with so much amusement, or I simply lay down on the sand to stare at the moon and the stars. The light of the full moon gives the beach a ghostly glow that feels warm. I think: I have never really done this in a long time—to lie down on the sand and to stare at the moon, while a bonfire glows and crackles in the distance. The beer continues to flow as the fire turns to ember. They sing some more. They play some more. I close my eyes, I feel the beer buzz humming in my head—and when I open my eyes once more, the moon looks brighter, and the stars feel nearer. I could make out the Southern Cross, and the sight of it anchors me: Sugar Beach is a place, I think hazily, that readily gives our center a kind of wholeness—healing from the madding crowd.

I remember muttering, as my consciousness flitted in and out to the soundtrack of fire cackle in the distance: the stars, the stars… Nights like this can easily convert the most hard-hearted into willing romantics.

On our first night, we were invited to the weekend bayle just across the Nauhang River. We made our entrance into the dance aboard a bangka—a most curious thing, made more curious given the fact that the cruise down the river was almost of a dreamlike sort. Think of the gurgle of river water as the boatman paddles his way. Think of the moonlight-created silhouette of the palm trees lining the shore. Think of the moon and the stars above, and the calm water everywhere else. Think of the pumping sound of dance music in the distance, every beat a beacon for you to come nearer. They are playing old songs, banished now from the dj booths of bigger cities’ night life: an old Madonna, an old Cyndi Lauper, an ancient dance hit whose title escaped me.

“I haven’t done bayles for years now,” I told Moses and Edwin.

“Sometimes, we need to do crazy things we don’t dream of doing at all. We all must do one thing we never usually do, every day of our lives,” Moses said.

“You sound positively cheerful,” my brother told him.

“It’s a beautiful night—and look, we’re going down a river in a bangka! Who thought today we’d do that!”

The bayle was in full swing when we arrived. The dancing grounds, which was now littered with so many hangers-on and locals prettifying for the one social event to come in a long time in Nauhang, was actually a basketball court made from raised rectangular stretch of concrete. It was enclosed by a haphazard line of bamboo fences, connected by nodes to each other with bamboo posts, and it was with these posts that they had strung the decorative colored lights, for an effect that approximated the festive. Outside the parameter of the fences, the basketball court itself (and now the night’s bayle dance floor) was surrounded by makeshift stalls selling beer and barbecue of all sorts—from chicken pecho to chicken legs to chicken innards.

On one side of the court, a stage had been set, its back wall draped with large swaths of pink and red satin, and its perimeter dotted with ornamental plants that were now in bloom. Splashed across the satin backdrop was the event’s name in cut-out red paper—“Saint Vincent Ferrer Chapel Coronation Night of Queen April Joy.”

And the new queen herself—a smallish girl fully made up (but in desperate need of eyebrow plucking) and wearing a tan gown accentuated with a string of fake pearls—sat on stage with her escort, a bored-looking boy desperately trying to smile and be comfortable in his ill-fitting barong. Around her, also seated, are the other girls—the ones who fell short to be crowned as queen of this little barrio—who were also all dressed up to the nines in gowns of blue and red. Their dresses made them stand out from the rest of the crowd who came in shades of casualness—and from the distance, I couldn’t help but wonder: what good do these small-time beauty pageants do for small barrios of visible, aching poverty? And the answer soon came to me with a dash of realization about my own arrogance: they need events like this to raise funds, perhaps for the chapel’s new roof; they need these as a validation that there are glimmers of beauty even in wretched circumstances; they need these to feel that things are all right; they need these to have the only entertainment they know how—to crown a local girl as queen for the night, and then dance the rest of the night away in glorious drunkenness with good friends.

Near midnight, we go home in another bangka ride, this time crossing the boundary of river and ocean—a sandy mouth that protrudes like a small peninsula from mainland Nauhang—straight into Sulu Sea. Still under the moonlight and the stars. And straight on to the beachfront of our own resort. How many times can you invoke the word “magic” to describe a nighttime bangka ride? Beautiful things, I quickly realize, may be repetitive in description—which may be why the experience of it will always be more truthful than the second-hand grandeur of words. Still, one must try to write about it, I suppose.

(To be continued…)

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

entry arrow1:03 AM | Going to Sugar Beach

Second of Six Parts

[read part 1 here]

Getting to Sugar Beach in Sipalay from Dumaguete is a matter of a four-hour road trip by car, which may necessitate a stop for lunch—if you happen to start out early in the morning—in Bayawan in Negros Oriental, or in Hinoba-an in Negros Occidental. I prefer stopping by the charming seaside boulevard of Bayawan, because the Hinoba-an stretch can be daunting in size and its, umm, “ravaged” nature. Along the Bayawan Boulevard, there are now a few, comfortably roofed food “stalls”—with box-like frames fashioned out of wood and bamboo—right along the seashore, where one can have your picking of typical, simple, small-town fare of fish stew, bistik, and what-not. This is also right beside a tabo that sells fruits and all sorts of local delicacy, so the picking can be varied and interesting. (I’m not sure though what are the proper stops when one travels by car or bus from Bacolod.)

The trip can be a breeze—and going through Basay, the last Oriental town down south can be a passage of breathtaking beauty, because Basay is where one can arguably find the most picturesque of Oriental Negrense countryside—emerald rice fields, gleaming hills, a slowly thickening growth of reforested trees, the glimmer of ocean that separates Negros from Mindanao—all of which is refreshing after the increasingly shocking wasteland of Siaton. What has happened to Bundok? This once lovely stretch of rolling plains and hills with the perfect view of Cuernos de Negros? I remember Bundok from my childhood, traveling to-and-from my hometown of Bayawan, as a place of magnificent beauty. Today, it looks like a sad desert, whose only saving grace is the sereguelas trees that dot the barren landscape. We buy two bags of the berries, and go on our way.

Past noon, we arrive at the beach at the edge of Sipalay town. That day, the ocean was a sparkling green, and the shoreline were virtual dunes of light brown, stretching far and wide, the sand dry and hot from the relentless summer hear. It was quite windy when we arrive, and a kind of sandstorm was engulfing the place. There was sand in our hair, in our clothes, in our mouth. We alight from the car, and my brother Edwin calls out to a buxom woman wearing the skimpiest of clothes. She was browned from so much sun, and was all smiles, suddenly, when she saw us. “The boat is coming in a few more minutes,” she chirps.

“Will the car really be all right, parked here?” Edwin asks. Two men were already busy loading our luggage towards the seashore. In the distance, a boat was nearing.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says.

“It looks like the waves are huge,” Moses says.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says again. She smiles more widely this time. In the five or ten minutes that we wait for the boat, she has sold Moses a sun necklace made of coconut shell and beads. The fifteen pesos it costs comes from me. “I have no change,” Moses simply tells me.

Here, for P250, one can hire a pumpboat to take us straight into the cove that is Sugar Beach, which is inaccessible from the rest of town by any form of vehicular transport. Going straight to Nauhang via Gil Montilla is the less-expensive alternative (a bangka across the narrow stretch of Nauhang River only costs P5 per head)—but it is more of a hassle in terms of transport negotiation, and the bangka may not be big enough to handle the capacity of oversized luggage. Even for its sheer expense, the 15-minute boat ride straight into Sulu Sea and then a gentle U-turn right into the embrace of cove is perhaps the more dramatic way of landing into paradise. The sloping waves certainly were dramatic, and so we quickly learned to distract ourselves by singing the most inane Broadway songs. We went from a repertoire consisting of hits from Mamma Mia! and Les Miserables, and finally to this one pop song from the 1980s that has become an icon of pathetic anti-feminist warbling—“I’ve Been to Paradise (But I’ve Never Been to Me).” That Moses—mad chameleon and minstrel—knows the entire lyrics of the song is hardly a surprise, and so we sing along, singing louder as the crest grows, and laughing all the way through. We sail through the waves and into the bay singing pathetic songs.

In the stretch itself, a few resorts have put up shop, each one connected to each other by a charming sandy road lined on each side by the most rudimentary of markers—coconut husks. Each one is distinct from the other in terms of, for lack of a better word, “character.” For instance, Takatuka, the first resort in the stretch (and perhaps the smallest and most compact) nearest the small village of Langub, is where the majority of the foreign tourists stay. This is also the more playful and colorful in the bunch, as if a child’s playground has mated with a tropical island, and has birthed this kaleidoscopic hybrid of a place. But the kitsch of its design is never overwhelming, and the place has an easy feel to it. The food is surprisingly good.

Bermuda Beach Resort right next to it is the more sedate, the most “typically” resort-ish of all the resorts in the place—but I would wish for better care of its grounds (especially the rear section), faster service (an order of French fries took forever), and better lighting for its rooms. (My room had two incandescent bulbs, two electric outlets with one socket each, and one small electric fan which I had to unplug when I wanted to charge my phone—and that was about it. Travel on the cheap? Surely. But…)

The resort at the farthest end is a hulk of a “modern” house—and you will forgive me if I don’t mention it at all: it is an eyesore of “modernity” that is out of character from the place. I always believed that one way anyone can contribute to the beauty of any place they love is to have things, like houses, blend well with the things we love about it. Langub Beach Resort right next to it is exactly the same thing: a crass collection of cottages that nevertheless attract the hoi polloi. Because it is cheap, this is where the locals—transients who mostly stay for a day—go and frolic. Sulu Sunset Resort right next to it is also charming enough—but the staff, or at least this diminutive young girl who tends the bar, is rude. I order brewed coffee—twice—and she gives me a look that is a cross between apathy and boredom; she never answers back, and goes back, petulantly, to her texting. Only when she is done sending the message does she sashay over, asks me what I wanted, frowns a little, and goes about her way to fill-up my order. And when my bacon sandwich finally arrives, it is a hulk of a thing with barely any bacon, its bread crumbly at the touch. It falls apart before I can even take a bite.

Driftwood Resort does not look like much from the outside—it has a rustic look to it and the place blends perhaps too well with its surrounding trees and plants—but it has the most character of all places in Sugar Beach, which is certainly not for everybody, save perhaps if you are a backpacker who knows the real deal of traveling with character. There is just something about Driftwood that seems entirely right for the very nature of Sugar Beach: a laidbackness that does not feel lazy, a charm that does not feel manufactured, a coziness that does not overwhelm. It helps that its bar is the most happening on the stretch—Sugar Beach’s equivalent of a night life, which is something considering that all you have is a snooker table, a pool table, and a sandy-floored bar. It helps matters—especially when you’ve had too much to drink for the day—that the staff is chirpy and helpful, even reopening the kitchen way past midnight, simply because we want a little chicken mami soup to go with our beer. It attracts a young European crowd, and this is where I meet Henrik, a 23-year-old Norwegian, a bartender on a five-month tour of Southeast Asian beaches—and we talk about snow and midnight suns and Moro pirates and literature and dead Norwegian authors.

“Henrik,” I say.

“You are the first Filipino I’ve met so far who can ever pronounce my name right,” he says.

He is on his twenty-fifth bottle of Pale Pilsen, or so he says, and I am on my sixth San Miguel Lite. I am tipsier than he is.

“That’s because I know Ibsen.”

“You know Ibsen?”

“I’m a literature teacher in university.”



“I thought you were a college student.”

My liver expands—and I decide it is time to go home and catch up on sleep.

To be continued…

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Monday, May 11, 2009

entry arrow9:51 PM | What Do Facebook Addicts Do on the Wee Hours of Monday Morning?

No question about it: go online, Facebook, and drink Tanduay at the same time in the free wifi zone of glorious Hayahay Bar. [Yes, there's free wifi in Hayahay! Imagine that!]

[With partner-in-crime, the Baguio writer Padmapani Perez]

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

entry arrow1:14 PM | A Wonderful Life

I just came off a wonderful lunch with my mother in Royal Suites Inn, together with my brother Dennis Carmelo and his lovely family for Mother's Day -- and now I'm having a cup of the best coffee in Negros Oriental, in La Residencia's Don Atilano, enjoying free wifi while listening to the violin music of Itzhak Perlman playing his series on evocative film scores.

I'm staring out the bay windows of the cafe onto the blue of Tañon Strait. It's a beautiful and sunny Sunday, and I am feeling that all is right in the world. And why wouldn't it be? I think of yesterday, which I spent in Antulang Beach Resort, with writers from the National Writers Workshop (courtesy of the wonderful Annabelle Lee-Adriano). After a cruise around Tambobo Bay and a great lunch, I retired to my own private villa (complete with its own swimming pool) on the cliffside that has a commanding view of the blue waters -- a sight that practically lures you into going buff without a care in the world. (And I, ehem, did.)

After napping and swimming, I was listening to easy music while staring out into the blue in Villa Alamanda, and the thought came to me: "This is really a wonderful life I'm having. I really can't complain about anything anymore."

If you ask the universe nicely enough, it does give you what your heart desires. I remember exactly a year ago when, on top of a sacred Sagada hill, the view of the Cordillera mountains and the gravity of the blue infinity beyond them unexpectedly made me weep in prayer -- and that was when I had first asked the universe for a different reality. I felt I needed change -- but of what kind, I had no definite idea then. Still, I remember praying hard on top of that hill.

Only lately have I realized that most of what I prayed for in Sagada have actually been answered in the past few months. I am happy that my baby have finally settled into a life I've always wished for him. That we have become great friends is something I will always cherish. And I have a new love as well -- which I have chosen to keep secret, because.... I have a new bond with my family that is warm and full of comedy. I have the company of great friends, old and new -- and our times together, spent in intimate hours in cafes and dancefloors and beaches, are deeper and more heartfelt. I have found a new reservoir of energy, and physically, I have never felt or looked better. I have a life that is a whirlwind of marvelous things. I can taste a future that I can almost bite into for sheer deliciousness. Most of all, I feel I am making the right decisions, and I am definitely bolder, and less hesitant to call a spade a spade, and to call out bullshit when needed. It's a completely different life -- and one I am actually still adjusting into. And I am genuinely, genuinely happy.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

entry arrow1:13 AM | Things That Run Through My Head These Past Few Weeks

1. I keep remembering my best friend telling me, "One foot behind you, Ian. One foot behind you." After Q, she has seen the worst of me in heartbreak, and can't bear another prolonged episode of utter helplessness. But how do you tell the heart to be careful? It pays no tribute to logic, and sooner lurches onto its own heedless orbit, its own acquaintance with speed. When it falls, even the accidents are beautiful.

2. It comes to me, while listening to the neighbor's radio, that all love songs do mean something: they are everything poetic that, in our lives, somehow remains unsaid -- but which we still wish to say. In my light moments when I feel the music in my bones, I think they are the soundtracks for what makes human -- the stories of how we live and love, set to the quivering rhythms that keep pace with the beating of our hearts. (Still, I say this in a time when I'm flying through the clouds. Will I still feel the same thing when I begin to plummet back to earth?)

3. This is how I measure my days: by the strangest moments I find myself smiling without me even knowing. I may be walking to class, and there's that unmistakable tugging at my cheeks. "You're smiling like you have a secret," friends sometimes tell me. That often startles me: "I am?" I say, this time grinning like there's no tomorrow. And that is when I feel the gentle curve on my lips -- and how light my chest feels. That's how I know I am all right.

4. Still, I am not sure what this is. I refuse to confine it in a box by giving it labels. I will not call it love -- because I've since found out that love is never enough. And it is too soon for even that. It is just something that feels good, that makes my happy days ever happier. But I guess we all live for this mystery -- and it pays not to question it.

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entry arrow12:20 AM | This Night, and All Nights

Tonight I discover the measure of closeness -- no numbers for it, no inches or centimeters, only a feel for the sheerest distance between my fingers and your skin: the distance is touch, and the measure is in friction. Later, I trip through your musk, and you devour the breathlessness we share in the beautiful dimness. Later, you tell me I am your secret and your wish. I hush your confessions and lead your fingers to my smile. "That's what keeps me," I tell you, "every day": a contraband smile only the angels can fathom. And the night lasts. And we are happy.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

entry arrow3:31 PM | Why I Write

By Rica Bolipata Santos

Because there are days when I understand Jude Law’s nanny. After all, there he was, in all his yumminess. And there she was, in all her…nanny-ness…in what real world would make him notice her? Perhaps it was that moment when his son asked for a glass of juice and right as she closed the refrigerator door, there he was about to tack a reminder that she was in charge of picking up the kids that afternoon. Her hand on the door, his hand on the door, and Boom! life alters.

Perhaps life had disappointed her; had made her think there was more than the daily drudgery of breath to breath. How many children can one love? Maybe in this disappointment, and Jude offered his hand, she thought to herself, prayed to a being, “at least, let me have this.” I am convinced she was thinking only of herself in this moment. I am convinced, as we grow older, that we hunger for life-altering moments more and more. At least, that’s the way I would write it in a story.

And there are days when I understand Sylvia Plath more than I can understand myself. I know that moment in the day when life is so completely overwhelming that the only other option left is annihilation. Love for children is complete for Sylvia as it is for me, thus the decision to erase oneself instead of another. And there are days when I say this out loud and people get upset and I write this information down in my diary as a tally sheet and wonder about the numbers on the page.

And I wonder about Pluto and how he really feels to have been believed to be a planet and then to be demoted to something else. I think of all the tests I took in Science 5 and how I had to memorize all the planets and their features and wonder what to do with all this outdated information, and while we’re at it, with any information. If things are true, until proven otherwise, and since many things can be proven otherwise, eventually, well why even teach children that some things are constant? Do we not set them up for disappointment? In my writerly mind, the title of this story will be Pluto’s Child and I will name this child Daisy and she will rediscover Pluto.

And there are moments when I travel and I realize that I use the word beautiful incessantly. People from another country to me always belong in some kind of painting and I can spend many minutes trying to unravel my thinking. Are these foreigners truly beautiful or it is merely my need to romanticize and idealize all things? But truly, why does light look so different in other lands? What about being in another place makes one aware of the curve of light? And what color is this light? Oh the winding routes my mind can take exploring this issue!

I wonder why we are kinder to strangers than we are to the people we hold most dear. Why am I more generous with others than with my own self? Why do things really happen in threes? When I conjure stories in my head, my characters inevitably go through three things: do I reinforce this pattern in the world through the word?

And there is the wealth of snapshots running in my head, oftentimes looking random but I know by now that my memory keeps them for material. Like sitting by the stairs waiting for tears to come when our dog died when I was 12. It is not the memory of the dog I retain, it is that feeling of wanting to be consumed by grief and feeling strange that all I could feel was relief. That moment when I was 16 and I heard our neighbor screaming at her child, thinking to myself I will never scream at my child. I wonder at the irony of that now after having screamed so much at my children since then. Or that moment of revelation when my brother drew my assignment for me when I was around 5 and I was touched by his talent (at 5!). Or how weird it was that at least 2 teachers asked me to ask my brother to have something drawn for their visual aids. What word would describe that first moment when a child knows the grown-up is doing something wrong?

My days are consumed by the one need to name moment to moment – enfleshing the world into words so that they may be turned in my hand, in my palm, and what it is that sits in my heart, can sit in my hand instead, and be thrown away into the sea; or kept in my pocket as keepsake. I walk the seashore of life and decide which rocks to keep, which to discard, which to put away so that I may mix and match at some later date; call upon a memory to authenticate a point; call upon a look I hit upon to explain character motivation; always, always keeping score.

Moment to moment I think to myself, there must be a word for this obliterating kind of joy. There must be a word for this travesty, or this tragedy, or this grief. What is the word at the center of my grief? This word is both identification and spell. If I can say the word, and only say the word, I shall be healed.

People wonder what it is a writer does and it is difficult to explain as it is a job that requires treading the line between real and imagined. Another writer-friend when newly-married complained once that everyone in the house she lived in with her husband would constantly ask her to do errands after all, “she wasn’t doing anything.” People want us to produce pages to prove that we have written. In writing, production and product are severely different things. I am asked often, ‘where you able to write?” And in my head I think, well…I was able to think, which is the lifeblood of all writing.

So, to many most of the time we really look like we’re doing nothing because part of writing is the hocus pocus part. For me, that requires hours of staring and sitting. It is ephemeral, the work of catching and matching words with experience. I need to keep still to do this. And sometimes, the opposite is true: I need to keep moving for the experience to catch me this time. There are those sought for moments when it just magically happens, when crystallization occurs. But when one writes long enough, one knows that the Muse also paces her gifts so that cannot always be relied upon.

I know the signs when I know I have hit upon something. There comes an incessant need to nest, i.e., to decorate, beautify or simply move furniture. I get weepy and for some strange reason, a British accent takes over and I mull over words and my tongue lolls around them like candy. I drive around Manila uttering sentences I’ve written, pondering on cadence and rhythm, the musician in me descending. My husband says I have this faraway look and cannot be reached. And eventually that voice comes to me and propels me to write. It commands me to document.

As I write this, a man with three sons sits across from me. We have gone beyond looking at each other as a man or a woman. Instantly, my mind records. We pass a look to each other, finding ourselves complicit in the rearing of children, in the difficulty of it, in the constant guessing that we do when we raise sons to become men and raise girls to become women, knowing ultimately that it is ourselves that we raise. It is a look that is both sad and triumphant. I file it away, knowing I will need that look in some later page.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

entry arrow3:35 PM | Free Comic Books!

Writer Andrew Drilon has a graphic story out in the comic book The Ancient Age, this one edited by Chris Campbell, available for free online, courtesy of Wide Awake Press in celebration of Free Comic Book Day.

Gerry Alanguilan also wants you to know that his classic work of love and violence, Wasted, is available for free online as well.

Go get them!

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