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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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Sunday, May 31, 2015

entry arrow3:18 AM | The Dead Bird

Once upon a time there was an empty house on a hill beside an old dalakit tree whipped by the winds, its branches gnarled and penitent under the fierce coldness of gray Zamboanguita skies, in the cold southern interiors of Negros nobody spoke about. Once upon a time there were rumors of a girl who lived there, on her own, and nobody knew where she came from, or who she was.

Those who had seen her, and there were plenty who did, swore that she was a mute vagabond, an orphaned child who found mere refuge in the old house—nothing more. Others claimed she was a ghost, a vengeful spirit, perhaps even a caretaker of sigbins. Most would agree, however, that the girl was young and small and would have been an inconspicuous thing if she were not constantly dressed in an old white shirt more than double her size. Manang Biday, whose own humble hut was closest to the empty old house, swore she had seen the girl countless of times, and that she was always wearing the same old thing, a man’s shirt, torn at the edges, and smudged everywhere with dirt and age.

Here we come to our brief story. If Alba, Manang Biday’s granddaughter, had looked away a moment sooner while she crossed the shallow creek, she would not have seen the girl dashing out, without so much as the feeblest noise, from the shadows of the house’s dilapidated back porch and into the waning light of the late afternoon.

It was growing to be a cold night, harbinger of the monsoon season. Alba had been on her way back to their house from an errand to buy lamp oil for that evening from the sari-sari store at the next bend of the creek. She was fiddling with her sweater, feeling the cold air snake into her and pouncing upon her skin. She wanted very much to banish it. But the sweater was too tight, and she could not adjust it. In her struggle, she felt a sudden whirling from behind her, and a change in the air that indicated someone else’s presence.

When she looked back, she saw the girl.

The girl had a look on her face that drew a frightening blankness. It betrayed nothing, just an ominousness that felt invasive. Even her eyes, half-hidden by stray locks of long black hair, were wells of utter emptiness, the blackness of her irises seeping in and absorbing the coldness of the gray late afternoon skies.

The girl had stopped a few feet away from Alba, the hem of the old shirt hugging her ankles and dragging into the mud and the wet grass. There she stood, a ravaging stillness, blank eyes staring straight into Alba’s own.

Alba, momentarily frozen, finally found her voice.

She leaned forward a little bit, and cleared her throat. “Where did you come from?” she asked. “Who are you?”

The girl would not say anything, but it moved back a few steps, slowly, and then stopped. It regarded Alba’s face with what could pass for cold curiosity.

“What are you doing here?” Alba stammered.

The girl still would not say anything.

When the girl moved again, it was to raise its right hand with a suddenness that startled Alba. It was clasping something, and when the child had her hand in midair, she opened it, palm up, and there it was. It was a small bird, a maya, and it was dead, its neck broken.

“Get away from me,” Alba said, and backed away.

She hurried down the narrow dirt road towards home, and when she turned around, the girl was still there, looking at her.

Alba stumbled to a run, but now she felt more clearly those blank eyes still staring at her, those blank eyes gazing at the nape of her neck, those eyes caressing it like one would a little feathery pet.


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Friday, May 29, 2015

entry arrow4:50 PM | A Place of Memory

I was coming home from my secret writing nook near Tugas when I found myself walking by my old neighbourhood in Tubod -- Springville, its denizens call it. And because I am currently writing a short story about it, culled from my childhood growing up there, I decided to visit it after many, many years.

There's a small road behind Kurambos that begin right off the highway, and begins as a claustrophobic passageway that stretches on and on, bordered on both sides by concrete fences that scale towards the sky. There used to be a field right beside this stretch, adjacent to a spring -- where the name "Tubod" comes from -- where the neighbourhood's women would converge daily to do their laundry and gossip. It's all concrete walls now, and the effect on the passersby is a squeezing akin to panic.

When it finally opens up after a few meters, I see the old house where we used to live. It is even smaller and more decrepit than in my memory, and I quickly wonder how we managed to live there for many years. There is a slight stench to the air, a mix of dirt and kanin baboy. The A-framed bamboo house after it, painted a dark brown, was where a young Peace Corps volunteer once lived, her greatest drama then being spied on at night by a peeping tom who turned out to be a young man who lived right across us. This house looked the same, if looking muddied more than ever. And the yellow bungalow that occupied the very middle of this narrow stretch, which terminated in the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah's Witnesses twenty meters away, is still bright yellow and is still a bungalow, with a towering structure in pink now behind it.

Kingdom Hall is no more, only a series of unremarkable flats crowded together, telling me that all I have left of this place is memory, and that the past is not a place to go home to, except in fiction.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

entry arrow6:48 PM | Fellowships, Festivals, and Friendships in Literature

This is happening tomorrow! Catch fictionist Susan S. Lara and poet Marjorie Evasco in a talk titled "Fellowships, Festivals and Friendships in Literature," where they lead a conversation on building a community of writers and readers. It's at 10 AM at the University House in Silliman Campus. The event is open to the public for free!

SEAWRITE awardee for the Philippines and National Commission for Culture and Arts Ani ng Dangal awardee, MARJORIE EVASCO’S books have won the National Book Awards for poetry, oral history and art. Her work is published in the Norton 2010 anthology Language for a New Century: Poems from Asia, the Middle East and Beyond (Eds. Ravi Shankar, Tina Chang & Nathalie Handal) and in The World Record: International Voices from Southbank Centre’s Poetry Parnassus (Eds. Neil Astley and Anna Selby). An honorary writing fellow in the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa in 2002, she also received a writing residency in 1991 from the Hawthornden Castle International Writers’ Retreat in Midlothian, Scotland, and in 1992 from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Studies and Conference Center in Italy. She has also received major prizes from the Philippines Free Press annual poetry awards and the Carlos Palanca Memorial awards for the essay, and was regional writing fellow for poetry of the University of the Philippines Likhaan Center for Creative Writing in 1985-86, the Gawad Alagad Balagtas for Poetry from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat ng Pilipinas in 2004, the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan from the City of Manila in 2005, the Outstanding Silliman University alumna for creative writing in 2008, the Carlos P. Garcia award for literature education from the province of Bohol in 2011, and the Ulirang Mandaleño award for education from the City of Mandaluyong in 2012. In 2013 she received the Taboan Literature Festival award for her achievements as a writer, for promoting the literature of the Central Visayas region and mentoring young writers in various national and regional writers’ workshops. In October 2013 she served as visiting writer in the International Writers’ Program of the Hong Kong Baptist University, and was appointed in March 2015 as Visiting Literary Artist in the University of the Philippines Visayas, Iloilo City.

SUSAN S. LARA writes fiction and nonfiction. She has won the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and Focus Literary Awards for her short stories, and the National Book Award for her fiction collection Letting Go and Other Stories. She attended the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa, and the Seminar on Contemporary British Writing at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom as a British Council grantee. She held the Irwin Lee Professorial Chair in Creative Writing at the Ateneo de Manila University in 2011. She has served as panelist in various writers workshops, including the Silliman University National Writers Workshop, of which she was director-in-residence in 2013 and 2014. Currently she is a professional editorial consultant and writing coach, and facilitates writing seminars and workshops for corporate clients.

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entry arrow6:17 PM | Letters From Everywhere Else

The first product from the white heat of writing I had a few weeks ago! (Actually, it's the second of four, but who's counting? This is the first one that got published.) Here's a short story titled "Letters From Everywhere Else," seeing print in the 25 May 2015 issue of Philippines Graphic Magazine. I intend for this to be the opening story of Where You Are is Not Here, the first of two collections I'm currently finishing right now. Thanks to Graphic editors Alma Anonas-Carpio and Joel Pablo Salud for making this happen. Here's an excerpt:

Where am I ?

Elan Frenkel began his first letter to him. Mateo looked at the handwriting, small and hurried and imprecise in its scrawl, which threatened to go over the edges of the blue stationery like a defiance of boundaries.

This is the simplest, most difficult question possible. Easily, I’m in Hong Kong. That’s geography. I haven’t written for a while—I felt incompetent to do so. I’m studying Judaism here, not nearly as often as I should have—but it is a must, if I want to stay here, for free, in this Jewish man’s far-flung hostel. I cannot believe any wandering Jew can get free food and shelter here, for just a bit of spirituality. I can do spirituality if I have to; a backpacker on a shoestring sometimes cannot have a choice. It was either prayers, or cleaning dishes in some Chinaman’s kitchen. And what will that get me? A fleabag tourist trap in the middle of nowhere, with rotten food. Better prayers and meditation instead of soap suds. It has been a long time since I prayed, not since I was a kid in Tel Aviv. During the Gulf War, Saddam’s bomb blew my friend’s face wide open, and for a while, I didn’t know if there really was a God. Judaism is a way of life, I suppose, and I’m so distracted by this world which perpetually feels to be on the fringe of my fingers, never actually touching, writing strokes in the air with a falling feather.

The Philippines seems like the best I’ve had so far. I should return, yet I’m still on my way to China, stalled. I could just go, by myself, across the border, but being a vagabond no longer appeals to me. I haven’t managed to settle the inner turmoil yet. Perhaps I can make you understand now that I was more than rambling when we had those nights in Dumaguete, drinking in the stars with cheap beer. Which reminds me, I left my Lonely Planet guidebook in your place; it is brown with use, but I thought you might want it. I could no longer carry it around; I began to see the world much too simply as neat categorizations of ‘places to go, places to stay.’ It was too easy; sometimes, the point of traveling is in getting lost. Maybe things are changing, possibly I can recognize that in hindsight. And I appreciate you writing, though it seems to me behind those sometimes extravagant vocabulary, something altogether simpler lies.

I’m ridiculously lonely at times, much more with this state of separation from the world. I am tempted to say that life does no good. Which is just so common: nebbish talk. I talk, eat, shit, wake up in the morning, and as part of the course, pray to God, thanking him for the miracle of my resurrection daily from the dead. Yet I feel no miracle, no God; my words disperse in a space of four walls. Nevertheless the quest goes on, I’m planning to buy a handicam and shoot the upcoming seminary here in a couple weeks, also a salad of Israeli backpackers, orthodox and cabalistic Jews swarming the earth. It was Passover a few days ago—3,300 years since the exodus from Egypt. I have only a lifetime, and by mistake I want it now. The quest is life.

To marrows,

This came two weeks after Elan had left Dumaguete. Had left him, and Mateo had not really expected to hear from Elan all too soon after leaving, and so the letter—which looked like it had gone on a long and difficult journey, its edges tattered and crumpled—came as a complete surprise. Or at least he pretended it was: there was comfort in the denial of anticipation. Two weeks, he thought, and there was still enough of April yet to reconsider and be appropriately nostalgic of the madness of those very short three days near the end of last March.

He never wrote back. Not yet. Mateo didn’t know what to write Elan about. Certainly nothing about quests or unused guidebooks or the difficulties of being on the road to somewhere else and not here. But he kept reading it, and reading it—the letter itself folded snugly in the pages of his journal, where he kept it to remind him of certain beautiful things.

Grab your copy of the latest issue of Philippines Graphic now!

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Monday, May 25, 2015

entry arrow5:56 PM | Launching Myrna Peña-Reyes' New Poetry Collection

Myrna Peña-Reyes' new poetry collection, Memory’s Mercy: New and Selected Poems (University of the Philippines Press, 2015), will be formally launched on Thursday, 28 May 2015, 4 PM at the University House (formerly President’s House) in Silliman Campus.

Memory’s Mercy is the third poetry collection of Dumaguete poet Myrna Peña-Reyes whose previous collections are The River Singing Stone (Anvil, 1994) and Almost Home: Poems (UP Press, 2004). This third collection contains new poems written after she retired here with her husband in her hometown of Dumaguete in 2005 after living abroad for thirty-four years. It includes selections from the out-of-print The River Singing Stone that was nominated for the National Book Award.

Born and raised in the Philippines of Ilocano stock but Visayan upbringing, Myrna Peña-Reyes was educated at Silliman University from elementary through college (BA English) and the University of Oregon (MFA in creative writing). While a resident of Eugene, Oregon where she lived with her husband, William T. Sweet, she was a winner of the Oregon Literary Fellowship grant for poetry (2002) from Literary Arts. Presently retired in her hometown of Dumaguete, she continues her volunteer affiliation with Silliman University’s literature and creative writing program.

The book launch is fittingly held during the closing week of the 54th Silliman University National Writers Workshop. Present at the first Silliman Writers Workshop in 1962, Myrna had helped its founders, Drs. Edilberto K. Tiempo and Edith L. Tiempo, run the Workshop during its early years in the ‘60s and early ‘70s.

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entry arrow1:47 AM | The Name's Cooper, Susan Cooper.

While it is true that American comedy of recent years has lost its cinematic funny bone (as this video essay by Tony Zhou clearly demonstrates, which pays special attention to the cinema of Paul Feig), it is also undeniably true that sometimes funny is just funny. There is, after all, much to love in the hilarious inanity of Feig's James Bond spoof, Spy (2015), starring the irrepressible Melissa McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy, after breaking out (and getting Oscar-nominated) in Feig's Bridesmaids (2011), has clearly come far and made for herself a unique attraction in film comedy: she has created a persona we have all come to appreciate and love, something only the best physical comedians -- Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Bill Murray, Jim Carrey, among others -- have managed to concoct and sell to an appreciative audience. In Ms. McCarthy's case, it is the generously endowed woman with pretensions of meekness who suddenly discovers a predilection for being bad-ass and foul-mouthed. She makes it work.

She has brought that persona to the shells of various characters in her movies -- including a tomboyish bridesmaid, an angry police officer, and a happy-go-lucky identity thief -- and sometimes they work, and sometimes they fall to the abyss of the uninspired. This time around, as a CIA desk jockey who finds herself becoming an active agent, the persona is fully engaged, making the pratfalls and banter that follow something in the new movie to love. The film works as a project of great comic timing, and while you are aware that everything you see is just comedic fantasy, you find yourself becoming fully invested in the shenanigans that unfold. Perhaps that is because everyone seems heavily invested in making this film work -- Jude Law and Jason Statham, for example, seem to be in serious modes deconstructing with glee their respective screen personas as suave playboy and dynamite action figure. This in turn makes the film a whole bunch of fun I did not really expect. Hell, it's a movie where you come to love Rose Byrne's villain as well while you buy thoroughly her cold-bloodedness. If that doesn't say anything about this film's appeal, I don't know what will.

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entry arrow12:12 AM | Think Negative Thoughts

It is hard for me to engage in an unfavourable evaluation of Brad Bird's Tomorrowland (2015), knowing how much I love the filmography of the director. Here is a film so earnest in its message, so eager in the presentation of its set pieces, that to find ourselves walking out of the theatre thinking of it as something of a forgettable experience is to finally acknowledge that the film is ... a mess. It is, at best, a noble failure.

I wasn't put off by its exuberant didacticism. Bird's earlier films (the animated ones, especially) had didactic streaks, too: The Iron Giant is about tolerance and being anti-military; The Incredibles is about owning up to what makes you special; and Ratatouille is about being truthful to one's art and vocation, no matter how the world perceives you. His latest film is actually a distillation of all these messages, which in those films made us pause in contemplation and then invariably cry. But in Tomorrowland, they have the quality of emotional Teflon, no matter the extra measure of exuberance.

I suspect it's a matter of structure: the script by Damon Lindelof is torturous and unengaging, proving to us once more that post-Lost, Mr. Lindelof is a hack equipped with big ideas he cannot really handle, as also seen in the equal failure of his work on Ridley Scott's Prometheus (2012). Bird tries to handle the unwieldiness of the material with his natural feel for wonder and whimsy but the film implodes from its own sense of having absolutely no narrative direction. (Negative thinking as villain? Really? Manila Bulletin has this film's number.) The throwaway revelation in the end about the "reality" of the world we bought into in the film's trailers is also off-putting, and in deeper regard, actually strikes me as cynical -- but no spoilers here. It is still enjoyable in bits and pieces, but you're better off with a third viewing of Mad Max: Fury Road.


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Sunday, May 24, 2015

entry arrow9:47 PM | The Denial of Feminism is a Hideous Thing

“My response to the ‘I am not a feminist’ Internet phenomenon… First of all, it’s clear you don’t know what feminism is. But I’m not going to explain it to you. You can Google it. To quote an old friend, ‘I’m not the feminist babysitter.’  ¶  But here is what I think you should know.  ¶  You’re insulting every woman who was forcibly restrained in a jail cell with a feeding tube down her throat for your right to vote, less than 100 years ago.  ¶  You’re degrading every woman who has accessed a rape crisis center, which wouldn’t exist without the feminist movement.  ¶  You’re undermining every woman who fought to make marital rape a crime. (It was legal until 1993).  ¶  You’re spitting on the legacy of every woman who fought for women to be allowed to own property (1848). For the abolition of slavery and the rise of the labor union.  ¶  For the right to divorce.  ¶  For women to be allowed to have access to birth control (Comstock laws).  ¶  For middle and upper class women to be allowed to work outside the home (poor women have always worked outside the home).  ¶  To make domestic violence a crime in the U.S. (It is very much legal in many parts of the world).  ¶  To make workplace sexual harassment a crime.  ¶  In short, you know not what you speak of. You reap the rewards of these women’s sacrifices every day of your life. When you grin with your cutesy sign about how you’re not a feminist, you ignorantly spit on the sacred struggle of the past 200 years. You bite the hand that has fed you freedom, safety, and a voice.  ¶  In short, kiss my ass, you ignorant little jerks.”

 ~ Mark Ruffalo

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

entry arrow11:06 PM | Life After Pacquiao's Loss

It was strange to see the national morale being punctured on the streets, on people's faces. The city looks and feels like it has been slapped, and its response is sluggishness. Deflation. I didn't realise what hold this thing had on the national psyche. All day long, people are talking like boxing analysts, with a tone that suggests a gaping wound.

So strange.

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entry arrow10:07 PM | Speakeasy Cats

What can I say about Depression Era cats meowing it out to the tune of jazz, gunfire, bootlegging, and speakeasies? Tracy J. Butler's Lackadaisy was a hoot of a read. This volume, which gathers together her initial work for an apparently very popular webcomic, is an immersive read into the sweet shenanigans of the 1920s, this time starring cats. I keep getting fascinated by this era's generosity with its capacity for being reread and reconstituted in pop culture. There's The Great Gatsby, of course, and countless movies. But it reminds me most of all of Alan Parker's Bugsy Malone -- essentially occupying the same thread as Butler's meowy narrative, but this time starring kids. Lackadaisy does not exactly end with a close-knit ending: it comes with a cliffhanger, touting a continuation -- and I wish it had been a standalone volume, promising only more standalone volumes still to come. But it's intriguing enough for a graphic novel, granted a language that may be a little bit too whimsical for comfort. The characters are drawn by Ms. Butler with an eye for clarity and fervent characterisation, and it is easy to fall in love with its hapless heroes, in particular the conflicted Freckles, who has some issues Bruce Banner and Dr. Jekyll can help him with. This book has been in my reading list for almost two years now, and I'm happy I've finally reached its last page. Given that slow-burning read, I wish it had closed with a more determined decisiveness. But, oh well, meow.

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Friday, May 01, 2015

entry arrow8:31 PM | The Universe is Amply Supplied with Night

There are things that upset us. That's not quite what we're talking about here, though. I'm thinking about those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming. Our hearts skip a ratatat drumbeat in our chests, and we fight for breath. Blood retreats from our faces and our fingers, leaving us pale and gasping and shocked.  And what we learn about ourselves in those moments, where the trigger has been squeezed, is this: the past is not dead. There are things that wait for us, patiently, in the dark corridors of our lives. We think we have moved on, put them out of mind, left them to desiccate and shrivel and blow away; but we are wrong. They have been waiting there in the darkness, working out, practicing their most vicious blows, their sharp hard thoughtless punches into the gut, killing time until we came back that way.  The monsters in our cupboards and our minds are always there in the darkness, like mould beneath the floorboards and behind the wallpaper, and there is so much darkness, an inexhaustible supply of darkness. The universe is amply supplied with night.

 ~ Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warnings

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