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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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Monday, August 31, 2020

entry arrow5:16 PM | Lockdown Confessions: The Ocean

I’ve been crying at the drop of a hat these days, at the slightest provocation, and mostly from small acts of kindness. Or stories that move me. It is the weirdest thing, how when the world feels so tight and suffocating, our emotions become adrift in an uncharted ocean so large I can’t even recognize what’s joy or what’s pain.


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Saturday, August 29, 2020

entry arrow1:02 PM | Chadwick Boseman, 1977-2020

He was only 43, and what shocks us about Chadwick Boseman's passing is the context of his meteoric rise in recent years -- but apparently, between shooting and doing press for Captain America: Civil War, Marshall, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods, and August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, he was undergoing countless surgeries and chemotherapy for colon cancer. What was most attractive about his persona, aside from his charm, was that bristling vulnerability that simmered under his physical show of strength. We had no idea. He once said, "The struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose," and I think that should be his epitaph, the summation of his life. What can I say, except this: Wakanda forever.

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Thursday, August 27, 2020

entry arrow1:27 PM | Gilda Cordero-Fernando, 1930-2020

One of my favorite writers, Gilda Cordero Fernando, has passed on. So saddened by this. Her storied life—so eclectic, so creative, so stylish—was one for emulation, and I don’t know why she has not been declared National Artist for Literature when others of lesser accomplishments have been accorded the honor. [And we do need another female writer in that pantheon, aside from Edith Tiempo.] Later today, I will be teaching her short story “A Wilderness of Sweets,” a personal favorite, for my Fiction Workshop class. It will be strange. She will be remembered.

Gilda Cordero-Fernando was a writer and publisher. She was also a newspaper columnist, fashion designer, playwright, visual artist, curator, and producer of pop pageants, fashion shows, and plays. Born on 4 June 1930 in Manila, she obtained her B.A. from St. Theresa’s College in Manila, and later earned an M.A. major in English Literature from the Ateneo de Manila University. She would spend some years teaching in high school and has also worked for radio. Her collections of short stories included The Butcher, The Baker, and The Candlestick Maker (1962) and A Wilderness of Sweets (1973). Both would later be reissued in 1994 under the title Story Collection. The Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings would describe her stories as prose that “ring in the reader’s ears in well-turned English and fill the mind with curious characters—people in the war, sunburned Filipinos with the American twang, queer designers in the world of high fashion, the humble folk cooped in a bus, a Dust Monster, even the Anti-Christ.” Philippine Food and Life, which she co-authored with Alfredo Roces, was published in 1992. She has also written and illustrated children’s books, and worked on Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation, a 10-volume study on Philippine history and culture published by Lahing Pilipino in 1978. She founded GCF Books, which published acclaimed titles that dealt with various aspects of Philippine culture and society, including Streets of Manila (1977), Turn of the Century (1978), Philippine Ancestral Houses (1980), Being Filipino (1981), The History of the Burgis (1987), Folk Architecture (1989), and The Soul Book (1991). As a visual artist, she completed a series of portraits of women, which she then packaged as a card set. In 2000, she also produced Luna, An Aswang Romance, the Palanca-winning play by Rody Vera directed by Anton Juan that, according to theatre critic Gibbs Cadiz, “became a conversation-piece production melding together Cordero-Fernando’s lifelong pursuits: theater, literature, fashion (specifically Filipiniana), Pinoy melodrama, and mythology.” In 2001, she produced Pinoy Pop Culture, the book and the show, for the Bench Corporation. Fr. Miguel Bernad would write of her: “Women are the best writers in the Philippines. In 1957, when the judges for the Palanca Awards submitted their individual choices of the three best stories, it was found that all three lists were completely different in one respect: each list contained a story—a different story in each list—by Mrs. Gilda Cordero-Fernando. In the end, two of her stories were dropped and one (‘Sunburn’) served to dramatize the fact that a young woman writer had become the outstanding storyteller of that year.”

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

entry arrow12:00 PM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 35.


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entry arrow9:00 AM | Epefania and Dumpawa

Here are two of my stories getting the theatrical treatment, and COMING SOON. Catch May Cardoso's adaptation of "The Sugilanon of Epefania's Heartbreak" on August 29 over at Relive Your Passion PH, and my own adaptation of my children's story "The Story of Dumpawa’s Lullaby" based on The Folk Songs of the Visayas by Priscilla Magdamo and a Manobo folk tale told by Violeta Gayak on October 31 over at the Silliman University Culture and Arts Council and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

entry arrow10:57 PM | What We Can Learn From Myths

I find comfort in stories, and the truth we can glean from them. But we have forgotten the common trajectory of myths and where the hero comes in for their journey. We forget that myths have a back story, that of the first rise of evil [Voldemort coming to power, Sauron fashioning the ring and controlling most of Middle Earth, Marcos declaring Martial Law] -- and then their unexpected demise [Voldemort repelled by a baby to near mortal oblivion, Sauron vanquished and losing his ring, Marcos booted out by People Power and then dying]. We forget there always follows a long period of lull, characterized by apathy and forgetfulness [Voldemort dormant for fourteen years, Sauron dormant for a thousand years, the spirit of Marcos dormant for thirty years], and a complacency that believes evil can never happen again. But it does happen [Voldemort and Sauron finally stir, and the specter of Marcos reappears in Duterte]. The forces of evil begin winning again, their second rise. And this is where the stories, our beloved books, always start, right? And always began by the unlikely: a boy named Harry, a hobbit named Frodo, all the angry voices all over the Philippines finally waking up to the smell of murderousness and incompetence. We are the hero, and this is the start of our journey of becoming. Heed the call. The story always ends with the triumph of good over evil.

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Monday, August 24, 2020

entry arrow11:33 PM | Anxiety Attack

I don't usually post mental health issues ever since I was told a few years ago by someone I trusted for advice to just "snap out of it." That made me clam up for a long while. [Felt ashamed about it, felt the pressure to pretend everything's dandy, and when the going got tough, I learned to hide, allowing the world to only see the "better" part of me.] I don't want to do that anymore. That said, I've been trying to reverse that track, hoping to destigmatize it. But truth is, the anxiety attacks have been increasing since the pandemic started, and today has been especially relentless. I've been trying to distract myself by doing assorted things, but it only helps a little. I won't "snap out" of this, but I'm going to bare it dark face. [Breathing in, out.]

[Breathing in, out.]

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Sunday, August 23, 2020

entry arrow9:00 AM | Amping

That’s what we have been saying, more and more, to each other in our missives to people we know. As we close out a text message. Amping. As we end a chat over Facebook. Amping. As we close out an email with a salutation. Amping. As we turn off our cameras over Zoom or Facetime. Amping. As we say goodbye to another six-feet away, mask and shields between us. Amping.

It’s not that we have not used this version of goodbye before. We have. But in the ancient days, that time before February 2020, we have always just said, “Goodbye,” or even more hopefully, “See you!” as the closing notes to our varied interactions. And we tossed those around as if there was a future, and our freedom was infinite. Tossed around with such magnificent mindlessness we can only look back to all that with hopeless wonder, our hindsight tinged with nostalgia and regret.

“Amping” has a quiet admonition to the way it wears its farewell, also a note of concern. It tells the recipient: “Be careful, take care”—bidding him or her safe passage as they venture out to errand, or work, or home, out into a world that’s tacitly acknowledged as one bleeding with danger. It says there are monsters about out there, be careful. It says we are concerned for your safety, be careful. It says we care, be careful.

There’s another word in Binisaya that approximates “amping,” or “pag-amping.” There’s “ayo-ayo,” but it’s a goodbye that flies into the regions of hope, of a general sense of being safe. “Ayo” is literally “good,” as in “maayo.” And also is our word for the unthreatening announcement of our arrival. We go to someone’s house, and we knock, and we bid its dwellers, “Ayooooo!” to indicate our visit, to say we mean well, to bid them goodness in our coming and in our presence.

“Amping” is not “ayo-ayo,” but they mean exactly the same thing, the yin and yang of the Binisaya goodbye.

The Tagalogs have a word of exactly the same import: “ingat.” As a word for goodbye, it is claimed that people started saying “Ingat” to each other in the deepening dark of the Martial Law years, when friends and family say it to acknowledge the hovering evil of those years, when people could disappear, just like that, never to be seen again. “Ingat or careful out there,” the acclaimed novelist and activist Ninotchka Rosca once posted in Facebook, “became the word for goodbye, replacing the old sige during the Martial Law years. It was the last word uttered between and among those meeting to discuss what had to be done, in ways big and small, to end the Marcos dictatorship. It was said with all the love and respect one was capable of. Because chances were, one would meet again only in a prison cell, or a torture house [called a ‘safe house’ by the military], or at a wake.”

I’m sure we say “amping” now in a different context—but also, alas, somehow the same: we have a government whirling with such sly intentions to curtail our freedoms sans calling for actual military rule. And then also we are swimming in the long lockdown days of pandemic uncertainty, death and frailty at every turn. Both threats are palpable like that feeling of a tight fist in your stomach.

There are monsters everywhere.

We know this for sure—even if mostly unseen, chronicled only in headlines that grow bloodier by the day. Another activist or journalist or lawyer or teacher killed. Another bunch in the hundreds dead from COVID-19, or thousands infected by it.

I know one such casualty of the latter kind, a friend.

His name was Em Mendez. He was a teacher and a prize-winning playwright. He was loved by many. He had a bright future ahead of him. He was only 38, celebrating that birthday milestone only days before COVID-19 took him.

I can’t remember what goodbye I’ve said to Em in the old days, before the scourge that took him had a name. I check my Facebook chat, and my last word to him was “Congrats!”—I think for a literary prize he had won then. It wasn’t even goodbye. We had no idea how the world would turn.

So I say this now to people I love, constantly: Amping, amping, amping. It’s certainly a goodbye of wishful safe passage, but I also wield it as a talisman. Amping to mean, “The Divine be with you.” Amping to mean, “I care.” Amping to mean, “No harm to you that I love.”

It’s just a word, yes—but words have power. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” I love those beginnings from the Book of John. Our deeply felt utterances have meaning, and like prayer—which are really words spoken in incantation—they can move mountains.

Or at least, in our case now, just a simple beloved wish for safety.

Illustration by Ruth Basagoitia for Healthline

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Friday, August 21, 2020

entry arrow10:07 PM | Catharsis

I too thought I could weather well the lockdown’s early months. But it got under my skin so thoroughly. Dean Francis Alfar’s story last night for Shorts, and this article by Juju Baluyot for Rappler now tell me I wasn’t alone feeling desperate, at the edge of a breakdown. It has taken an immense effort to rise from all that, which only really waxed for real on my birthday weekend, thanks to the ministrations of the s.o. I found a breakthrough through him—“Just open up and don’t push people away, you can ask for help, you know, you don’t have to do everything alone,” he said during one of my darkest moments—and I’ve made some efforts following his prescription, which also had a weird side effect: it has made me very emotional, and with every catharsis I’d have I’d cry at the drop of a hat. 

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entry arrow8:29 PM | Remembering Mom Edith on Her 9th Death Anniversary

I took this photo of Edith Tiempo in May of 2000 when we were having a break from the workshop session on our second Wednesday, the summer I became a fellow for fiction in the oldest creative writing program of its kind in Asia that she co-founded. We were in a "resort" somewhere in Bacong, now abandoned, which was infamous then for having an entire airplane right inside the compound, where guests could enter and clamber around the interiors, useful for our imagining ourselves in flight for somewhere else. I used to do sepia portraits of every single fellow and panelist, from 2000-2005, and this was part of that project. I'd remember this photo session because Mom Edith just seemed so relaxed. "Just capture me how I am now," she said. I did. And since then I've seen this photo published in many books, modules, and websites, sometimes repurposed for other artworks -- sans credit, hehehe. I remember the day she died in 2011. We were just ramping up for the serious start of Silliman University's weeklong Founders Day festivities -- and I was in a cafe about to enjoy coffee when I got the text message, which sent me racing to the Silliman University Medical Center. By then it was too late, and then soon began the challenge of planning and executing the State Funeral of a National Artist, made more challenging because we were doing it outside of Manila. It was a week of steep learning all sorts of protocols; a lot of sleepless nights -- but I did it because ̛I truly loved her as a mentor. I remember how patient she was with me whenever I visited her, to listen to her stories, or to seek her advice. Much has been made over the fact that many call her "Mom," some of them unkind, but you'd know why this is so if you had the privilege of being mentored by her, of just being in her presence. She simply exuded a one-of-a-kind maternal warmth, but one that's also exacting of your art. We will forever miss her.

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entry arrow5:58 AM | The Undelivered Arrival Statement of Ninoy Aquino

21 August 1983

I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through non-violence.

I seek no confrontation. I only pray and will strive for a genuine national reconciliation founded on justice.

I am prepared for the worst, and have decided against the advice of my mother, my spiritual adviser, many of my tested friends and a few of my most valued political mentors.

A death sentence awaits me. Two more subversion charges, both calling for death penalties, have been filed since I left three years ago and are now pending with the courts.

Three years ago when I left for an emergency heart bypass operation, I hoped and prayed that the rights and freedoms of our people would soon be restored, that living conditions would improve and that blood-letting would stop.

I could have opted to seek political asylum in America, but I feel it is my duty, as it is the duty of every Filipino, to suffer with his people especially in time of crisis. I never sought not have I been given any assurances, or promise of leniency by the regime. I return voluntarily armed only with a clear conscience and fortified in the faith that in the end, justice will emerge triumphant. According to Gandhi, the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man.

Rather than move forward we have moved backward. The killings have increased, the economy has taken a turn for the worse and the human rights situation has deteriorated.

During the martial law period, the Supreme Court heard petitions for habeas corpus. It is most ironic after martial law has allegedly been lifted, that the Supreme Court last April ruled it can longer entertain petitions for habeas corpus for person detained under the Presidential Commitment Order, which covers all so-called national security cases and which under present circumstances can cover almost anything.

The country is far advanced in her times of trouble. Economic, social and political problems bedevil the Filipino. These problems may be surmounted if we are united. But we can be united only if all the rights and freedoms enjoyed before September 21, 1972 are fully restored.

The Filipino asked for nothing more, but will surely accept nothing less, than all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the 1935 constitution – the most sacred legacies from the founding fathers.

Yes, the Filipino is patient, but there is a limit to his patience. Must we wait until that patience snaps?

The nationwide rebellion is escalating and threatens to explode into a bloody revolution. There is a growing cadre of young Filipinos who have finally come to realize that freedom is never granted, it is taken. Must we relive the agonies and the blood-letting of the past that brought forth our republic or can we sit down as brothers and sisters and discuss our differences with reason and goodwill?

I have often wondered how many disputes could have been settled easily had the disputants only dared to define their terms.

So as to leave no room for misunderstanding, I shall define my terms:

Six years ago, I was sentenced to die before a firing squad by a military tribunal whose jurisdiction I steadfastly refused to recognize. It is now time for the regime to decide. Order my immediate execution or set me free.

I was sentenced to die for allegedly being the leading communist leader. I am not a communist, never was and never will be.

National reconciliation and unity can be achieved, but only with justice, including justice for our Muslim and Ifugao brothers. There can be no deal with a dictator. No compromise with dictatorship.

In a revolution there can really be no victors, only victims. We do not have to destroy in order to build.

Subversion stems from economic, social, and political causes and will not be solved by purely military solution: It can be curbed not with ever increasing repression but with a more equitable distribution of wealth, more democracy and more freedom.

For the economy to get going once again, the working man must be given his just and rightful share or his labor, and to the owners and managers must be restored the hope where there is so must uncertainty if not despair.

On one of the long corridors of Harvard University are carved in granite the words of Archibald Macleish: "How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms; by truth when it is attacked by lies; by democratic faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always and in the final act, by determination and faith."

I return from exile and an uncertain future with only determination and faith to offer – faith in our people and faith in God.

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Thursday, August 20, 2020

entry arrow3:57 AM | In Celebration of Mothers Who Know

“You come back and see us again.”
~ Jack Twist’s mother in Brokeback Mountain [2005]

No dialogue. From the screenplay: 
“She looks at him. She reaches out with her free hand and caresses his cheek, 
the sweetest gesture.”
~ Elio Perlman’s mother in Call Me by Your Name [2017]

“Yes, I’m here.”
~ Mark’s mother in Playing by Heart [1998]

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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

entry arrow9:29 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 34.


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Monday, August 17, 2020

entry arrow2:12 PM | My Mother Turns 88

Happy birthday, mom! It's also my mother's birthday today. She turns a gracious 88, and has plans to reach a hundred.

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Sunday, August 16, 2020

entry arrow9:34 PM | Love Will Puts Us Together

I’ve learned to have the least of expectations about birthdays some years ago when I turned 38. I don’t really celebrate it anymore, allowing it just to take its course, come what may. The s.o. took me out on a pre-birthday dinner tonight in a new restaurant owned by a former student that just opened last Friday. The dinner was delicious. Then he took me to Chiccos for our favorite dessert of Bailey’s Bouquet, our first since the lockdown. It’s all so heartwarming, because surprise. We’re just winging it with life, to be honest, but it’s love that puts us together.

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entry arrow4:50 PM | In the Belly of the Whale

This is my current lockdown comfort, listening and watching Joseph Campbell in conversation with Bill Moyers about the power of myth, from their seven-part PBS special from 1988. The first episode has an interesting recounting of the hero and the three temptations [for Jesus, it is economic, political, and spiritual inflation, and for Buddha, it is lust, fear, and ego or capitulation to the opinion of others]. I can learn from this. Right now, I feel that I am in the belly of the beast, of the whale. The only recourse is to be swallowed, and then to reemerge.

Follow your bliss.

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Saturday, August 15, 2020

entry arrow3:13 PM | Dug-ab Redux

Last August 9, Dug-ab unveiled their second event—still at Adamo, because plans to do it in a restaurant in Dauin had to be changed because of pandemic restrictions on travel between towns. Held on a quiet Sunday afternoon, this one promised to be a spread for mid-afternoon refreshments—but one so highly evolved beyond “snacks” that we were more than willing to go down this culinary adventure.

We started off with the pineapple gin fizz—a tangy cold drink with a surprising bitter [but nicely so] aftertaste—from Beyond Plants, which complemented well the crustless chorizo and cheese quiche with its spicy notes, this one from Coffee Collective, which really should be serving this snack on the regular in their shop.

For the heavier entrees in this one-of-a-kind Sunday snack, we had the signature sinuglaw from Adamo—white marlin marinated in kimchi sauce, plus pork marinated in soy vinegar, set on a bed of crunchy lavash and highlighted with dashes of spicy aioli. Adamo's Edison Manuel quickly followed that with another one of his signature dishes: the bao bun, this time filling it with potato-encrusted fried chicken thigh, which is then complimented with potato grits, smoked pork aioli, and radish microgreens.

Dessert came with a sampling of three coffee varieties from Coffee Collective—from Atok Benguet [in bourbon variety, washed, with milk chocolate, brown sugar, and walnut flavors], from Misty Valley, Ethiopia [in heirloom variety, naturals, with strawberry, dark chocolate, and floral flavors], and from Mount Apo [in catimor variety, naturals, with cacao nibs, raisins, and jackfruit flavors]. We got them served without sugar or cream, and it was easy to distinguish the freshness, the notes, the aftertastes of the different coffee varieties on the tongue. Pairing the coffee with the magnificent churros [soft, sugary sweet, and crunchy in places] from Beyond Plants is a discovery of complementary goodness everyone should make on their own.

You can get updates on their upcoming events by following the collective at Instagram @dug.ab6200.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

entry arrow1:53 PM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 33.


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Sunday, August 09, 2020

entry arrow1:56 PM | The New World

Putting up a series of coronavirus industry disruption articles for reference later. I've been studying how creatives are navigating the ruins and the losses to find out-of-the-box opportunity.

RFI: On print journalism.
The New York Times: On fashion.
The Guardian: On independent filmmaking.
Wall Street Journal: On the arts.
Vice: On music.

Illustration by Gracia Lam for The New York Times

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entry arrow8:00 AM | The War

From the diary of the late journalist and novelist Teodoro M. Locsin, made available to us through the ongoing Philippine Diary Project of Manuel L. Quezon III, we read the following wartime missive, which I believe can give us a reference of sorts to our current pandemic reality:

“The war holds your problems in grateful suspension. You almost dread the coming of peace which will once more precipitate them. For the moment, they have lost their urgency. That trouble with your family, the uncompleted novel, the hopeless passion for a girl who does not love you, which had formerly so troubled you, must now stand humbly at the door while you occupy yourself with matters more pressing, of life and death. That fine emotional balance, that delicate synchronization of all your parts, that rich fulfillment you thought was so necessary to your happiness have ceased to concern you, for the reason that happiness has become, for the duration, superfluous. No longer necessary. The war has given you a breathing spell.

“The war has given me what I never had before: time to read as much as I like. I had several books I bought and never found the leisure to read. I had given them up as money lost. During the last three weeks, I was able, between alarms and all-clears, to finish reading them all. The war has been an unexpected dividend. “It has changed, though, the character of my reading. I have a collection of detective novels still unread. I used to enjoy few things more than to run through their gory pages at the end of the day. Now I cannot read them. Their dismay over the killing of one, two or three people seems to me rather petty. Now. “Now I find comfort and relish in the pages of the philosophers whose conclusions may be briefly stated: Nothing matters.

“The war has also affected our drinking habits. Those who drank as a matter of habit are drinking more than ever. They drank for relief, as a means of escape from the intolerable self. Now they drink to escape, simply, the war.

“Those who drank on occasion have, on the other hand, stopped drinking altogether. They drank as others read books, listen to music, collect paintings or go to the movies, to relieve boredom. The war has taken boredom away. Bombers coming over in perfect formation, glistening with death, are the equivalent of a good stiff drink. Bombs rushing through the air overhead are an all-night revel.”

Reading those words from the doldrum days of World War II in the Philippines, it’s striking how much of what passed for the mundane in those years—when people were not running away from bombs or atrocities, or when they were not scavenging desperately around for something to eat—could very well be descriptors for our very own experiences these days: the dreadful [but also strangely grateful] suspension from everyday cares which now cease to matter in the light of more visceral horrors, the boredom demanding all sorts of satiation, the changed habits either for the better or for the worse…

Truth to tell, when the lockdown began and all our lives were put to a long pause without the knowledge we have now of all the deep cuts resulting from the pandemic, a part of me was somehow grateful for the interruption. I thought the “time off” without a clear end would finally carve out enough time to finish projects and assorted what-nots—but I didn’t count on the heavy psychological toll, the paralysis of unending days, the gravity of the uncertainties compounded by the fact that the enemy we feared [and still fear] is invisible and insidious. Eventually, all the best-laid pandemic plans imploded—and in retrospect, as they should actually. Because this long pause wasn’t a vacation or a reprieve from the busy schedule; this was a needful time for the world to stop and mourn for all that we’ve lost, and are still losing.

And so every day, as we struggled with new protocols and the unending scroll of bad news, our fears widened to accommodate even more trepidations. For example, I’d go grocery shopping for the one day in the week I’d allow myself exit from my confines—and when I’d come home, I’d be so convinced I had contracted the virus one way or another I’d actually run up a temperature or have some difficulty breathing, my old friend Hypochondria causing psychosomatic symptoms so believable [at least to myself] I was convinced again and again of death knocking on my door. But who has not seen that video of Jomar Tanyag in Saudi Arabia, alone in his room in a villa for OFWs, pleading for the help that would not come while struggling to breathe? “Hirap na hirap na po ako,” he’d gasp between coughs and wheezes. It was difficult to watch him articulate his distress. And to know that he died soon after, never receiving the help he needed. That video, taken with a shaky cellphone camera, was more visceral than any horror movie—because it was real.

For me, there has been no let-up from the ongoing nightmare even if I’ve pretended accommodation to the greater freedoms of the GCQ since July. Just last week, a friend of mine—the playwright Em Mendez—died from COVID-19 in Manila, which made my fears suddenly so intimate. He was a joy to be around, and he was a very talented writer and teacher, with years of potential productive work still ahead of him. But now he’s gone. He was only 38.

This keeps me in check, and disallows me from ever thinking I could be complacent and go for a return to my old movements, my old haunts and habits, my old mindset.

There are too many casualties already for us to ignore the seriousness of what we’re facing, which also includes the crunch of a shrinking economy. If Jollibee can be affected and has to close hundreds of branches because of the direness of the pandemic, how much more the majority of us in the rank-and-file or in small enterprises?

All of which has made me think of a paradigm that allows me a measure of understanding: that perhaps this is our Great War, our postmodern version of the struggles our parents or grandparents faced in the first half of the 1940s—except that their enemies then had the distinction of faces and insignia that were readily seen and recognized.

Ours, however, remain faceless and invisible—and a cipher.

The boredom of the restless lulls sounds the same.

The casualties are also in the millions.

And there are the wounds: for the infected, something physical and ravaging; and for the rest of us still in the clear something deep and psychic, like a slowly fermenting PTSD.

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Saturday, August 08, 2020

entry arrow10:54 AM | The New Freedoms

I love the new versions of Norman Rockwell's Four Freedoms paintings, done by a variety of artists, recontextualizing the classic works to reflect the real America.

Freedom of Speech. [For context, see here.]

Freedom from Fear. [For context, see here.]

Freedom from Want. [For context, see here.]

Freedom of Worship. [For context, see here.]

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Friday, August 07, 2020

entry arrow9:42 AM | Exile

I’m in exile. Waking up in Taclobo today, staying with the s.o. and his mom for a while, after the flooding in my apartment.

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Thursday, August 06, 2020

entry arrow11:06 PM | This is Privilege Misbranding Itself as Privilege

A version of this article has been going around, but I always thought it was a joke somebody Photoshopped to make it look like the real deal from Business Insider. Turns out ... the article's real. And it's just ridiculous to know how the privileged can rebrand that privilege as "empowerment." In the real world, almost no one ever gets ahead without daddy's money or connections, or a lucky windfall, or in this case, mommy's "gift" of a job and some real estate. The "hardship" described here has nothing on real hardship. This is not empowerment. [For a bigger image, click here.]

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entry arrow1:28 AM | Soaring, Inspiring

Vietnam's Zing News has chosen Bay Len, edited by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, as one of its 10 books to read "that convey an optimistic message." The anthology contains a Vietnamese translation of my story "The Last Days of Magic," together with other stories by Margaret Atwood, Junot Díaz, Amy Tan, Anne O'Brien, Bina Shah, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and others. [It's in Vietnamese, but you can Google translate.]

Link to the article here.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

entry arrow12:00 PM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 32.


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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The 30-Day Film Challenge in One Blog Post!

I decided to do this film challenge over on Twitter, starting on July 5, and now it's done thirty days later! So here is a month of personal film choices following a daily prompt, all in one go. I also took note not to repeat titles from my recently-concluded film challenge.

Day 1 / The First Film You Remember Watching: The Swarm [Irwin Allen, 1978]. I was four years old, and I saw this in a movie theater in Bayawan that no longe exists. In retrospect, this is not a good movie, but it provided my first brush with cinematic thrill -- which I crave for until now.

Day 2 / A Film You Like That Starts with the First Letter of Your Name: In the Realm of the Senses [Nagisa Ōshima, 1976]. Might as well choose a title that goes for our baser instincts.

Day 3 / A Film You Like That Has More Than Five Words in the Title: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown [Pedro Almodóvar, 1988]. My introduction to the crazy world of Pedro Almodovar, and I have been spellbound ever since.

Day 4 / A Film You Like with a Number in the Title: 3 Women [Robert Altman, 1977]. I love almost all of Altman's films -- but this one, a mysterious dreamlike tale, sealed the deal for me.

Day 5 / A Film You Like Where a Character Has a Job You Want: Almost Famous [Cameron Crowe, 2000]. A journalist for a famous magazine, a career that's basically a fantasy now.

Day 6 / Your Favorite Animated Film: The Little Mermaid [Ron Clements and John Musker, 1989]. Well, not exactly my favorite animation, but it's right there in my Top 5. It reawakened my love for Disney, and when I first saw it I was astonished by its innovations.

Day 7 / A Film You Will Never Get Tired Of: (500) Days Of Summer [Marc Webb, 2009]. A film whose quirks and love lessons easily make it a modern classic of romantic comedy. This will be the millennial When Harry Met Sally...

Day 8 / A Film Where You Liked the Soundtrack More: Paris, Texas [Wim Wenders, 1984]. Ry Cooder's music is haunting. I'm still on the fence regarding the film itself.

Day 9 / A Film You Hate That Everyone Else Liked: District 9 [Neill Blomkamp, 2009]. I hate hate HATE every single one of Blomkamp's movies. Walked out of a screening of Chappie.

Day 10 / Your Favorite Superhero Film: Unbreakable [M. Night Shyamalan, 2000]. I loved how it delves into comics lore, but does something different with it. But let's not talk about that misbegotten sequel.

Day 11 / A Film You Like From Your Least Favorite Genre: Apocalypse Now [Francis Ford Coppola, 1979]. I don't like war movies, or action movies in general, but I like this one.

Day 12 / A Film You Hate From Your Favorite Genre: Geostorm [Dean Devlin, 2017]. I loooove disaster films, and I had high expectations from the makers of Independence Day and 2012. But my vitriol for this one knows no bottom.

Day 13 / A Film That Puts You in Deep Thought: The Man from Earth [Richard Schenkman, 2007]. One of the best "what-if" movies I've seen, and it's just one long, provocative conversation among friends...

Day 14 / A Film That Gave You Depression: Loveless [Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2017]. Bleak, bleak, bleak.

Day 15 / A Film That Makes You Feel Happy: Everyone Says I Love You [Woody Allen, 1996]. A lighthearted musical set in New York and Venice and Paris. What's not to like? Saw this in Tokyo in autumn in 1997, which will always be a happy memory.

Day 16 / A Film That is Personal to You: Call Me By Your Name [Luca Guadagnino, 2017]. Read the book years before the film, and it spoke to me in a deep way. Happy that the film turned out the way it did.

Day 17 / Your Favorite Film Sequel: Addams Family Values [Barry Sonnenfeld, 1993]. A sequel that's even better than its original, powered by the no-holds-barred performance by Joan Cusack as a husband-killing social climber.

Day 18 / A Film You Like That Stars Your Favorite Actor: Postcards From the Edge [Mike Nichols, 1990]. I'm there for every Meryl Streep movie. And this drama showcases everything, even her singing voice.

Day 19 / A Film You Like Made By Your Favorite Director: E.T. the ExtraTerrestrial [Steven Spielberg, 1982]. Spielberg is the compleat filmmaker, someone who makes critically acclaimed films that are also commercial behemoths. I like how he balances the two, and this film is a distillation of that balance.

Day 20 / A Film That Changed Your Life: Brokeback Mountain [Ang Lee, 2005]. This film devastated me. This scene near the end wrecked me. But it also allowed me to be braver in the telling of my queer stories.

Day 21 / A Film That You Dozed Off In: xXx [Rob Cohen, 2002]. But I'm generally bored by generic car chases and action scenes.

Day 22 / A Film That Made You Angry: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room [Alex Gibney, 2005]. I seethed watching this documentary. Down with capitalism!

Day 23 / A Film You Like Made By a Favorite Director Who's Dead: Working Girl [Mike Nichols, 1988]. Nichols died too soon. He made films that spoke to me in many ways, and this film is one of his most enjoyable.

Day 24 / A Film You Wish You Saw in the Theater: Lawrence of Arabia [David Lean, 1962]. The small screens of our televisions and our laptops cannot do justice to the immersive scale of its cinematographic grandeur.

Day 25 / A Film You Like That is Not Set in the Current Era: Pride and Prejudice [Joe Wright, 2005]. Set in the Georgian period, and photographs the time in such earthy sensuality. Probably my favorite adaptation of my favorite Jane Austen novel.

Day 26 / A Film You Like That is Adapted From Another Medium: Yellow Submarine [George Dunning, 1968]. A movie based on a Beatles song! It's trip.

Day 27 / A Film You Like That is Visually Striking to You: The Cell [Tarsem Singh, 2000]. An uncanny visual feast from a director known for his visual idiosyncrasy. The film is gory, but beautiful.

Day 28 / A Film That Made You Feel Uncomfortable: Hostel [Eli Roth, 2005]. This film made me realize torture porn is not horror, just a glorification of sadism and psychopathy. I've since refused to watch films of this subgenre.

Day 29 / A Film That Makes You Want to Fall in Love: Sleepless in Seattle [Nora Ephron, 1993]. I love how the physical separation makes the movie. The lovers never meet until the end but the fact that we root for them is testament to the power of its storytelling.

Day 30 / A Film With Your Favorite Ending: La La Land [Damien Chazelle, 2016]. Love is letting go.


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