Archive of ‘gogirls’ category

a collection of j. herbin inks

“La Perle des Encres” – “The Jewel of Inks”. Thus now are known the inks first created in 1700 by sailor-entrepreneur M. Herbin in his atelier in the Rue des Fosses Saint Germain in Paris. The company, known as J. Herbin, has been in existence since 1670; they began as a purveyor of fine sealing waxes.

Using inks in fountain pens and sealing wax in correspondence is an enjoyable visit to a splendid age, when the educated people of that time wrote long letters on thick paper in an elegant hand, carefully sealing them afterward with colored wax, an impression from a seal or a ring, and perhaps a kiss.

It is a marvel that we today can enjoy these same things. J. Herbin still makes fountain pen inks from natural dyes; their neutral pH is fountain-pen friendly. Here’s my latest haul of J. Herbin, from Scribe Writing Essentials in Eastwood Mall.

The packages are very chic, a designer’s dream.

The ink bottles are also beautiful, as are the labels. And the names of the inks, in French, will make you fall in love. Je t’aime.

The bottles are of glass and come with plastic caps.

There is something so very satisfying about a well-made and well-designed product.

The bottles are a special shape – the caps are set slightly back to give space for a groove that functions as a pen rest.

The bottles are works of art in themselves.

Even the bottom of the ink bottles are lovely.

These simple writing samples show how spectacular these water-based, lightfast inks are. Can you imagine using one of these colors in a pen to write a letter to someone special? Or using several colors to create a watercolor artwork?

This new year, make it a resolution to tap in your own creativity. What is it you enjoy doing – writing, drawing, singing? Express yourself through that channel, do whatever it is that makes you happy, and renew your spirit in words, color, or sound.

Photos taken with a Nikon Coolpix L21 at PICC Complex, Pasay City.

taste more:

emergency trip

It was excruciating – pain radiating from my right thumb to my wrist, then forearm, then shoulder, all in the course of three days. There had been some discomfort in the previous months, but this time it was agony.

Refusing to take meds or try any remedies pending a physician’s advice, I gritted my teeth, leaned heavily on Alex for support (she almost buckled under the weight), and made my way to the emergency room of a Makati hospital late one night last week.

That afternoon I had done some research and by a galactic coincidence a story popped up on Yahoo! Finance that seemed related. “The Baby May Be Giving You Mommy’s Thumb” screamed the headline.

The condition is called De Quervain’s tendonitis and is an inflammation of the tendons below the thumb down to the wrist, and may result from carrying heavy babies from lower cribs and scrolling and texting on smartphones. It may be treated by painkillers, splints, steroid injections, and surgery.

With the text was a diagram that showed pain beginning at the base of the thumb area and radiating upward. My pain was the radiating kind but it wasn’t emanating from the base but from the thumb joint, which was red, swollen, and painful to touch.

I poked it. Oww. Bad idea.

At the hospital, two residents attended to me, a female and a male. The lady doctor looked over my chart.

“Is the pain severe?” she murmured.

“Yes. Assuming childbirth to be number ten, my hand pain is the number eight orange frowny-face on the pain chart,” I said. I described the situation.

“Radiating? I see. Has the pain reached the ancilla?”

“If by ‘ancilla’ you mean ‘armpit’, then yes, it has.”

They sent me out for x-rays and when I came back, the male doctor looked them over and spoke. ”Have you seen how I write?”

What the hell does that have to do with my hand, I thought, but of course I realized he had a point – somewhere – and was about to make it. I put on a puzzled face.  ”No…”

He took up a pen, gripped it in four fingers, his thumb hanging free. “I have the same condition you have. It’s called focal dystonia – ‘writer’s cramp’.”

Focal dystonia is a neurological condition that may be accompanied by radiating pain or uncontrolled curling or twisting of the fingers, and usually afflicts people who rely on fine motor skills, like guitarists and surgeons. And writers.

“Oh, cool!” I was elated. “I’m a writer! It figures! Hey, wait. So you mean I don’t have De Quervain’s tendonitis or ‘mommy’s thumb’?”

He glared. “No, you have focal dystonia, ‘writer’s cramp’!” I nodded with understanding. Of course. He had it himself, so naturally he wouldn’t want to call it some sissy girly name.

“Is it a joint thing, or a repetitive motion injury thing?” I asked.

“It’s a stress-related nerve thing, and you might need therapy, and you definitely need rest,” he said. He scribbled some numbers on a piece of paper, pushed it to me. “Here’s my hand specialist’s number. Call her.”

I wanted to ask if the specialist was so specialized as to specialize on only the left or the right hand, but remembering the story I read on the Internet, I asked instead, “Can I have a splint? Or steroids? Hunh, can I, can I?”

He frowned. “You can have a pill. Here’s a prescription.” More scribbling.

“But it hurts bad,” I whined.

“Oh, all right. I’ll prescribe an injectable so you can sleep tonight.” He waved me over to a nurse, who inserted a plastic shunt into a vein on my left hand, then a syringe into the shunt.

“This is (unpronounceable name of medication),” the nurse said. “It’s going to sting going in. Oh, and there’s an aftertaste of buko juice.”

“What kind of painkiller gives more pain?…oh, never mind. Lemme have it,” I said, wincing as he slooowly pressed the plunger and the taste of coconut filled my mouth.

The shunt was kind of cute, because it was pink. I wanted to keep it as a caffeine delivery system to shoot espresso or Cobra energy drink straight into my bloodstream and! to! the brain! but Alex stared at me with narrowed eyes and of course no one wants their eldest daughters fixing them with disapproving looks so I let the nurse remove the shunt. He wouldn’t have let me leave the hospital with it anyway.

For being a mostly good girl while in the emergency room, I was given my favorite treat by Alex. She took me to ingest caffeine the old-fashioned way at Starbucks where she had a Mocha Peppermint frap and we shared a banana loaf slice and a tuna croissant.

Lifting my plastic cup of Zen iced tea, I tried to balance it on my palm while holding with four fingers and trying to find a way to rest my thumb, until Alex pointed out that I could maybe hold the cup in my left hand. Brilliant child. Whatever would I do without her?

By the time we went home, the pain was gone, and I slept well again, my slumber serene, knowing that I had ‘writer’s cramp’ as befits a writer.

But ‘mommy’s thumb’ would not have been amiss, as I am a mommy too – a grateful one, to be blessed with an Alex like mine, and an Erika waiting at home with a warm hug.

The lesson here was that even a minor ache may turn out to be a condition for which one needs medical treatment. I had ignored the hand pain for months, belonging as I do to the Ernest Hemingway tough school of writing, where you bind up your bullet wounds with a dirty handkerchief clenched between your teeth and keep on typing.

But my neglect meant that my condition had deteriorated to the point where I needed to get x-rays and see a specialist. I am thankful that the emergency room resident who saw me last week made a spot-on diagnosis and treated me with sympathy and smiles.

It was a stern reminder, though, that anyone can benefit from – take care of yourself, so you can better take care of others. ***

taste more:

birthday cakes

My birthday was last week. My offspring asked me what I wanted to do most of all in the world on my special day. I said, “Read a book at Starbucks.”

They said: “No, really, Mama. What would you like to do that’s FUN!!! and ENJOYABLE!!!”

I replied: “Really, for me drinking coffee and reading for a couple of hours is my idea of FUN!!! and EXCITEMENT!!! and adventurous blazing ACTION!!!”

So we went to Starbucks Powerplant Mall. It being my birthday, and me being the lazy person that I am (and I really work hard at it, lemme tell ya), they got in line for coffee-and while I sank my behind into a soft and comfortable couch.

We sat around for a while sipping our Peppermint Mocha hot coffees and fraps until the kids got so bored that they upped and went to the video game arcade, promising to come back for me in, “Like, an hour or two, or when Offspring Major finally beats Offspring Minor at Tekken 6.”

Ensconced in warmth and fuzzy softness and pepperminty coffee flavor, I finished Dr Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo’s book of travel essays Looking for the Philippines. And what a lovely book it is, and what a charming and enchanting country we have, seen through Ma’am Jing’s eyes.

When the kids showed up to collect me, we had dinner at Zaifu (sushi and stuff) and dessert at Sugarhouse. Now that was another part I liked.

Behold! French apple pie, blueberry cheesecake, dulce de leche mini cake, and almond sans rival – an exciting adventure in pies and cakes that led to much chewing and swallowing action.

A good book, coffee, cake, and children –  simple things. Do we need really anything more?

taste more:

hitman: david foster and friends at araneta coliseum

I don’t go to concerts. It’s enough for me to hear music on my headphones without the distractions of having to go to a venue, be with other people, and not be able to see or hear as well as I could with my home audio setup.

But when given the chance to watch “Hitman: David Foster and Friends” at the Araneta Coliseum tonight, I grabbed a couple of tickets in my grubby little paw and hid them in the recesses of my wallet for safekeeping until concert night.

This was the lineup: famed songwriter David Foster and singers Natalie Cole, Charice, Peter Cetera, The Canadian Tenors, and Ruben Studdard. Now doesn’t that send frissons of delight up your spine? Not too long ago I had seen The Canadian Tenors’ performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and was captivated. I would have given anything to hear them sing live – and here the chance was, dumped into my lap not a couple of months later.

One of my closest friends, Adelle Chua, went with me. We didn’t know quite what to expect, not being regular concert-goers. We were disappointed by our first experience – forced baggage check.

There was a long line of people outside trying to get into the venue, and there was a delay because the show’s Manila producer, Ultimate Productions, had not informed the public beforehand that umbrellas and cameras would not be allowed inside the arena and had to be left at a counter beside the gate. They did not have enough people at the items counter, and the few people there did not have any idea how to check things properly and consequently chaos resulted. People were angry and worried that their valuable cameras would be lost. There was a lot of shoving and pushing and waving of tickets in people’s faces as everyone tried to hurry and get in. It was horrible and the producer deserves to be spanked. Hard. Many many times.

Once inside the venue, we were glad that there was powerful airconditioning and that we seated fourteen rows from the stage with a good view of everything. David Foster’s piano-playing was sublime, his patter engaging. “Music is everywhere in Manila,” he said. “It’s in the streets, in the hotels – and here.” He seemed overwhelmed by the audience reaction. “It’s true what they said, people sing along to the songs here,” he marveled. “I’ve never had an entire arena do that before.”

The Canadian Tenors came on and performed three songs. One of them was “Hallelujah” and I was lifted up on wings of sound. They were fantastic. I could have gone home happy at that point, they were magnificent.

Natalie Cole came out next, and she was incomparable. Her voice is silvery light, so sweet, so beautiful. She sang “Unforgettable” along with a recording of her father Nat “King” Cole’s voice, their voices blending together in a magical duet. A smile is perpetually on her face; she beams, her face shining as if it were lit up by the sun, the voice soaring effortlessly higher and ever higher.

At the end of the show, the performers all came out and sang a song David Foster wrote for Michael Jackson – “The Earth Song”. From left, The Canadian Tenors (four of them), Natalie Cole, Charice, Ruben Studdard, Peter Cetera.

Ruben Studdard, said Foster, “fills a gap in genres”, as he does the crooner-type and R&B songs. His voice is deep, rich, sonorous in the tradition of Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross. He has another talent – making up songs on the spot from a line or two given to him. He did admirably with “so many years” from a lady named George (Georgina – the name raised Foster’s eyebrow and gave him a chance to say, “Hi, George, I’m Debbie”), and also with the rather unimaginative “I’ll always be there for you” from a woman also named George (Georgia). By this time Foster thought some collective leg-pulling was going on, and he chuckled.

Foster had another gimmick – going up to people in the audience and having them sing for thirty seconds. A couple were ordinary folks with talent; there were three teenagers who sang a cappella; but then there were professional singers Pilita Corrales (of course she sang “Dahil Sa Iyo”), Randy Santiago (he did “Wildflower”), and Arnel Pineda.

Pilita, our very own diva, still has her vaunted beauty, style, and voice and it was a tremendous pleasure to see and hear her. Randy combined a terrific rendition of one of Foster’s own songs with humor – “I’m so nervous!” he said onstage, as if he were not one of the “concert kings” of the land, and in the last line of the song interjected, “Can I kiss you?” to a piano-playing Foster who laughed and pointed to his cheek. And yes, Randy did lean down to peck the maestro’s cheek, and hugged him before he left the stage.

I’m not sure David knew Pilita and Randy were professionals, but he did recognize Arnel in the audience and convinced him to sing a few lines from the Chicago hit, “Hard Habit to Break” (a song that has painful associations for me, but that’s another story).

Which made a great entrance for Peter Cetera, former lead vocalist of Chicago. Arnel said, “You guys are freakin’ me out!” Being with both his ‘heroes’ on stage was obviously a huge experience for him – he actually knelt in front of Cetera till the latter pulled him up, laughing but clearly flattered.

Cetera’s voice was not in excellent form, but he made up for it with soul and showmanship, singing some of his most popular hits. One of them was “Glory of Love” from the Karate Kid 2 soundtrack, that had everyone singing along.

The show ended with Charice, the petite Pinay powerhouse who is being mentored by Foster and who has improved vastly under his tutelage. Think of it as he being Freddy Roach to her Manny Pacquiao – it’s a mighty combination. She belted out several songs and had the audience on their feet in a standing ovation, cheering themselves hoarse. She did several songs made popular by Celine Dion, one of them “Power of Love”. Charice also did a fantastic rendition of her own hit “Pyramid”.

Foster said Filipinos should be proud “of your little one”, as he clearly was, saying she was in the league of all the women singers he had worked with – Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton. It was a moment of pure elation.

The music was superb, the show was spectacular, the energy was high high high and we left the arena wowed by the performances  of the evening.

Once outside, though, I had to get my camera back and the experience was even more dreadful than before. More pushing! More shoving! With more screaming from disgruntled patrons! There still weren’t enough people behind the counter and they had not lined up the umbrellas and the cameras by number or done anything else to arrange the items during the three hours that the concert lasted. They did nothing at all. I was one of the first in line and it still took  fifteen minutes before I was given my camera back.

When I finally managed to disengage myself from the melee with much elbowing and leaning and apologizing, my shirt was hanging off my shoulders and my carefully pinned-up hair was a tangled  mess.  Adelle said, “You look like you’ve been through a war.” And that is indeed how I felt. The people behind Ultimate Productions deserve to be scolded and spanked. Hard, as I mentioned. Many many times, as I said.

The check-in incident was terrible and an ugly start and end to an otherwise wonderful show. It needn’t have happened – there were people who had somehow smuggled in their cameras anyway, as flashes kept popping, and cellphones with cameras were not taken. There was no announcement made at any time before, during, or after the concert that photography or video were forbidden. So why take cameras? And umbrellas? They weren’t wet – it rained during the concert, not before. I asked several people with the events group who the producers were, but they all refused to say. Why? Because they knew this aspect of the event they staged was mucho fail?

That being said, I look forward to another edition of the concert. Foster said that they haven’t left Manila yet but are already planning their return – for Valentine’s Day 2011. Fans of David and Friends, both old and new, can look forward to more music, surprises, and romance from this talented team in just a few more months.

taste more:

nat’s happy wraps

There are some artists who work in several media in at once. It is as if the creative urge within needs to be expressed in different forms; or perhaps another medium is chosen when one is deemed unsuitable or inadequate to convey the artist’s message or whim. Palanca Award-winning poet Joel Vega writes for a science publication and also creates fantastical sculpture.  I write creative non-fiction and do needlework – embroidery and quilts – reveling in the colors of embroidery floss and the patterns of cotton fabric, working with my hands and not only my head. And my classmate, writer Natasha Gamalinda, creates one-of-a-kind costume jewelry from beads, bits of rawhide string, and lengths of chain.

Nat belongs to the Gamalinda family of writing fame. A poet, essayist, and short story writer, she is completing her master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where I met her in Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo’s creative non-fiction writing class.

Her venture into jewelry art is called “Happy Wraps“. Nat designs and creates custom pieces in happy colors that make the soul skip with a glint of a glass bead, and fingers tingle with the feel of grainy leather.

Knot anklets, which may be worn as bracelets.

Pastel pearl beads and a blue glass star charm make up this cutie, suitable as a christening gift for a baby girl.

Nat created this choker for me in my chosen flavors of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. She added a unicorn charm in the center, referencing my two-decades’ long involvement in the Philippine thoroughbred industry. I’m happy to own a statement neckpiece that turns heads and is also a souvenir from one of the most exciting young writers in the Philippine literary scene.

A choker Nat designed for me in the “choco-strawberry” colorway from her “I Love Ice Cream” line. Other flavors include pistachio and wildberry.

With the holidays just around the corner, why not ask Nat to create bracelets or neckpieces for your loved ones in their favorite colors and materials? Email her at or search for ‘Happy Wraps’ on Facebook to see photos of Nat’s work and get your own custom wearable art pieces from this talented artist.

Photos by Natasha Gamalinda/Happy Wraps.

taste more:

life. it keeps happening ’til you’re dead.

This is true. I found out using empirical methods.

First, things happen – they are earthshaking, life-changing, soul-transforming! You’re borne up on a wave of hope, washed to sea on a tide of fancy and fascination, drenched in a deluge of possibilities and potentials.

Then, something else happens to shift the situation to the left of the number line. Next thing you find, you’re left high and dry on a dirty beach with oil-slicked pelicans staring at you in puzzlement.  It’s the same old shit after all, mainly because you’re still hanging around the planet to experience it.

“Merde!” you say to yourself. “When is it going to stop raining human waste on my parade?”

The answer is “Dunno.”

Having no control over the cosmic sewage system, you should therefore take measures. No, not those kinds of measures. Put down the ruler. And the fragmentation grenade.

You can perform reactive measures – have a golf umbrella handy, stock up on toilet paper and wet wipes, and have a garden hose attached to a fire hydrant or an industrial-strength pressure sprayer nearby.

You can also choose to be proactive. Look back on your life. Pick out the recurrent patterns. After having one last cry about the mistakes and wrong choices and failed relationships and their after-effects, analyze what the probable causes could be. Learn to recognize the factors that bring about negative situations and shy away from them. Mainly this involves avoiding toilets, assholes, and other sources of waste matter. This is very difficult, by the way, easier said than done, because of habit, ignorance, and the risk of internal poisoning.

Rally from disappointments and find ways to turn the bad into good. For instance, make a diary of your life’s journey and use the narratives, the experiences, to inform your art, whatever it may be. Life is fodder for creativity. Heartbroken? Take all that emotion, handle it like clay, and turn it back outward onto your canvas or notebook or piano.  The resulting painting, story, or song will be brilliant in its sincerity and truth.

There is a third option – passivity. You can decide to just let life pass you by while you watch it from your ratty couch with coins, keys, and cookie crumbs trapped between the cushions, your feet propped up on the coffee table with the beer bottle rings. This is the cop-out choice. Do you really want to do this? Are you sure? You have a reclining two-seater La-Z-Boy with drink holder? In that case, scoot over and pass me the popcorn. And the remote.

Another empirical finding – call it karma, call it divine retribution, call it bilog ang mundo, there is a force in the universe that redresses the balance. “First, do no harm,” like that ancient Greek doctor guy said. Should others do unto you, let them. The wheel will turn. They will carry the burden of their behavior, not you. Understand this – you cannot control others’ actions, only your own. Take it from there.

Therefore, while on this planet, do good. Spread peace and love. Bake red velvet cupcakes.  Call it ‘luck’ or ‘random happenstance’, you will be surprised at the unexpected blessings you will receive.

Then again I could be wrong about all this.

This recliner sure is comfy.

“Some think it’s holding on that makes one strong; sometimes it’s letting go.” – Sylvia Robinson

taste more:

pop goes the world: ‘orosman at zafira’ and divorce

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 19 August 2010, Thursday

“Orosman at Zafira” and Divorce

For its 35th season, the Dulaang UP of the University of the Philippines is putting on a series of productions kicking off with Francisco Baltazar’s “Orosman at Zafira”, running up to August 29 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater at UP-Diliman’s Palma Hall.

For those who remember having to slog through Baltazar’s epic poem “Florante at Laura” in high school, “Orosman” is the same in flavor; the dialogue is heavy reading in archaic Tagalog and hard to follow, although the narrative, as brought to life by cast members, can be comprehended from the talented and excellent performances.

Reed screens decorate the set and are moved around to create spaces, emphasize separation, and otherwise indicate location. At the beginning, the title of the play is cast upon the screens in light, which fades and shifts to a rainbow of coruscating lights.

Suddenly a woman’s low, husky tones ululate in distinctly Filipino cadences, followed by the doom-doom beat of tribal drums. At those sounds, something primal surges within, a call of the race deep within the blood that hearkens to the rhythm of forebears as the reed screens separate to reveal the singer/narrator, Zelima (played superbly by Tao Aves), clad in flowing robes, mourning the deluge that has overwhelmed their land: “Sa aming bayan, dilubyo sa aming bayan. Tatlong pacha, isang kahariang mahal; nagalit ba ang dakilang Allah, at nangyari na ang dapat na mangyari?”

Then unfolds the story of power and wealth, love and sorrow, life and death, played out in dance and song and words. The women of Baltazar’s “Orosman” are powerful: Tasy  Garrucha enchants as Zafira, princess of the Marueccos tribe, while Jean Judith Javier’s Gulnara, the beloved of Sultan Mahamud, Zafira’s father, convincingly portrays a complicated love. Both turn warrior upon the assassination of the sultan; do not be misled by the flowing gowns and the soft voices; the dulcet tones turn harsh with anger, the gowns stripped to reveal men’s clothing while staves and other weapons are waved at the moment of battle.

As the drama unfolded, I realized that the spirit of warrior women still lives in Filipinas today. Infidelity is endemic in our culture and is cause for much heartbreak in relationships. Our laws are biased towards men, who can only be charged with concubinage upon submission of proof that they have set up a household with a woman not their wife. Women, on the other hand, only have to fail once and be caught in a tryst with their lover to be charged with infidelity. Is that fair?

There are also no strict safeguards for battered women and children, despite the Violence Against Women and Children law which was only passed a few years ago. What recourse is there for Filipino women in the present day to escape from the trap of loveless marriages scarred by infidelity and violence, the wife-beating husband in the arms of another woman, often providing no support for the children?

House Bill 1799 is one such solution. Called the “Divorce Law” and proposed by women lawmakers who are among our modern warrior women, it provides a better option than the costly and lengthy annulment that is the only means at the present for unhappily married Filipinas to be emancipated.

Have you noticed how the proponents and supporters of the bill are women and progressive men, while its opponents are traditionalist men? The reactionary male lawmakers and their like-minded fellows who seek to keep women entrapped at their convenience are selfish and fail to take into account the feelings of the women who yearn for freedom and the chance to start life anew, perhaps find a man who will truly love and cherish them. Why can’t they let go?

These hidebound fogies see women as property, theirs to bind and loose at their whim, blind to the rights of women to live their own lives as they see fit, while they engage in affairs left and right. That is not fair or moral or right. If a marriage is not working, for whatever reason, why not accept that fact and take steps to set both parties free to start anew? That is better than for unhappy couples to stay together for the sake of appearance – that is hypocrisy.

Baltazar’s women took matters into their own hands when it came to love and war. Today’s women need to keep to the law of modern society; wielding swords and bows are not an option. Yet Filipinas are not without weapons – we have our brains to think and our bodies to act to support a law that is long overdue and that will give women that which are our rights and should not be withheld by those who wish to retain their power over half of the population.

As examples of strong and loving women, Zafira and Gulnara are inspirations. Some of the other cast members include Jay Gonzaga (Orosman), Kevin Concepcion (Aldervesin), Roeder Camañag (Boulasem), Acey Aguilar (Zelim), Neil Ericson Tolentino (Mahamud), and veteran Ronnie Martinez as Ben-Asar, Mahamud’s vizier. Directed by Dexter Santos with original music by Carol Bello, “Orosman at Zafira” is a must-see. Call Dulaang UP at 926-1349 for tickets and playdates. ***

Photos from Prof. Amy Bersalona of the UP-Diliman College of Arts and Letters/Dulaang UP.

taste more:

pop goes the world: a feminist manifesto, with popcorn v. 2

I was so swamped with work I wasn’t able to write a “Pop Goes…” column from scratch for the August 5 issue of Manila Standard-Today. Instead, I asked my editor to use a ‘reserve’ article I’d originally written for this blog, adding a few more paragraphs containing details not in the original.

Click here to read the piece at Manila Standard-Today Online.

UPDATE, 7 Apr 2012: MST recently revamped their website and the link is lost. Here’s the column in full as it appeared in print:

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  5 August 2010, Thursday

A feminist manifesto, with popcorn

Some three years back, an engineer I knew sat me down at a small cafe at the place where I worked at the time, ordered popcorn, and told me he was going to give me an “important talk”. Advice of the unsolicited sort – actually, any kind of information – intrigues me.  So I sat and waited for the popcorn.

The engineer spoke in a sympathetic manner, like he really wanted to help, like he knew what was best. He was aware my ex had bailed years ago to be with someone fifteen years younger. “We need to find you someone else,” he said, “but men find you intimidating. That is why you have admirers but no serious suitors.”

“The popcorn needs salt,” I replied.

“We talked about you,” he said, “and we all agreed you’re smart, good at what you do, and pretty. You could even be a real stunner if you lost a few pounds and were a few inches taller.”

“Popcorn’s better with butter. Hey, alliteration!”

He moved the bowl of popcorn away from me. “You’re too intellectual. Everyone is afraid that they won’t be able to hold up their end of a conversation with you.”

As if I were going to deconstruct Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or debate the merits of the Reproductive Health Bill on a first date. I do have some social skills; that kind of thing is appropriate only on the second date. (Heh.)

“Pay attention to this. You’re not getting any younger. And you have to lose weight,” he added. My fingers were curled around the edge of the popcorn bowl; he rapped them with a spoon.

I rubbed my knuckles and mused over what he said. What struck me most about our talk – other than that he kept taking away the popcorn and that the waiter never did come back with salt and butter – was his matter-of-fact assertion that because I was short, plump, of a certain age, and, worst of all, possessed of a functioning brain, no Filipino male would be attracted to me. It was the most absurd drivel I had ever heard.

Yet it was an honest thing he said. Because that is the reality in this society, and that is how many Filipino men perceive women – as sex objects for whom youth, big breasts, and a tiny waist are assets while maturity, a mind, and an independent attitude are liabilities.

Apparently, to gain the attention of a man, I have to lose weight, wear high heels, dumb down my conversation, and fake my age or turn back time.

Some from other cultures might think differently. An Australian male friend once asked why I remained unattached. With us was another friend, a Filipino male – a lawyer – who said bluntly, “Filipino males do not find her attractive. She’s over thirty and has two children.” The Aussie said, “But she’s smart and pretty! And her kids are wonderful!” The lawyer shrugged. “But she’s not young. It’s not her – it’s our culture. Her best bet would be to find a foreigner.”

He was telling the truth, though it did not speak well of his fellow Filipino males. A couple of years later I saw him one late night, holding the hand of a beautiful woman much younger than himself as they crossed the street.

I’ve asked many male friends of all ages and from all walks of life, why the Filipino male predilection for the young and intellectually immature. Their reply? “Take our word for it. Ganoon talaga.” That’s the way it is. The phenomenon is not confined to Filipino culture – how many elderly non-Filipinos have we seen around with giggling twenty-somethings on their arm?

What a sorry state this society is in when it comes to male-female relationships. It is this crooked mindset that causes cosmetic surgery clinics to thrive, marriages to crumble, and some women to feel demeaned, miserable, and used while others take advantage and do the using, digging what gold they can, all this further reinforcing a cruel cycle of gender dynamics based on economics, power, and lust.

It is sad that four hundred years of organized religion in this country has not made any headway into changing this state of things. Instead, it has been entrenched in the culture – a far cry from, say, the 16th century, when some Filipino tribes decreed monogamy and possible execution for adulterers of either sex.

Will Filipino men ever change the way they treat women? Will we Filipino women realize that we are partly to blame in the way that we raise our children with this same mindset?  When will we say, “Enough!” and realize that we deserve to be treated better? ‘Equal’ would do, for a start.

For my part, I will always rebel against the chauvinistic norm of this society and instead of forking over my money to a cosmetic surgeon for a liposuction, I will finish my graduate studies. I will grow my brain instead of my breasts, and shrink my ignorance rather than my waist. And if I have to walk this world alone, then joyfully will I make the journey, for I would rather be free than a slave.

But if someone wishes to make the trek with me, with complete acceptance of my children and who I am and all that I do, I might accept his company, for the road is long and it goes ever on.

He can bring popcorn and I butter and salt, and we will talk and he will not be intimidated by my references to obscure books and theories. He may be of any race or age, as long as his mind and heart are as free as mine. He will put the bowl of warm buttered salted popcorn in my arms, and feed himself and me as we walk in love and laughter till journey’s end. ***

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the happy feet tales: school steps

School time rolled around again, and it was time for the lazy writer to get out of her comfy swivel chair-that-is-used-only-for writing, and go to school to enroll. The happy feet were thrilled at the chance to go for a walk, more so when the lazy writer slipped them into the wooden Happy Feet sandals that went clip-clop whenever they took a step.

The school was a university in a huge campus filled with green trees and plants. The lazy writer loved trees, and the happy feet loved walking along the paved paths. First they walked past the building at the top of the main drive. In front of the building was a famous statue called the Oblation.

The Oblation was the statue of a young man who stood with his arms outstretched and his face lifted to the sky. The happy feet felt sorry for him. Not only was he naked, exposed to wind, rain, and sun,  his feet were rooted to his pedestal and he could not walk anywhere. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the steadfast-at-his-post Oblation.

The happy feet next walked past a stand of banners in front of the lazy writer’s college.

It was  a sunny day. The happy feet were warm and toasty in the sunshine.

The happy feet had a long, long way to go to the next college, but they didn’t mind taking one step after another on the paving stones that were the colors of the lazy writer’s school. Clip-clop, went the happy feet along the maroon-and-green path.

The next college was a long way off, so very long! that the happy feet soon felt tired. The lazy writer sat on a bench on the path and rested a bit. The grass in the garden was very green and very cool. The happy feet’s toes wriggled and jiggled in the cool green grass.

At the next college, the happy feet stood in line with other feet so the lazy writer could sign up for a writing class.

All that walking and standing in line made the lazy writer thirsty. So she went outside where people sold drinks from huge plastic coolers filled with cold cold ice. The lazy writer bought a bottle of cold cold water and drank it down. The coolness went way down to the happy feet’s toes! After the drink, off they went again, this time to pay the school fees. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the ice-cooled-drinks-containers.

It was a long long way off to the university’s bank. When the happy feet felt tired again, the lazy writer sat and rested. This time they felt the cool cool stone and moss on steps that led down to a grassy dell. Come and play, the trees and grass said to the happy feet. But the lazy writer had many things to do. Maybe next time, said the happy feet. Up they got, and clip-clop they went, past the cool green gardens.

It had been a long warm day and the happy feet were tired of walking around campus. Oh, so tired! The lazy writer decided to take a tricycle to work and let the happy feet rest a bit. The happy feet loved the ride. Vroom, went the motorbike. The happy feet felt the vibrations that tickled and teased.

The lazy writer was glad to get things done. She was all set for the next semester and looked forward to learning new things. The happy feet had fun walking around school. And the toes wiggled and jiggled and wriggled for joy.

~ The End ~

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writing workshop home service

Filipinos are mostly a laid-back, easy-going bunch. There are many reasons why I say, this, but for now, let’s just take one – the national penchant for “home service”. At affordable prices, because they’re not paying for overhead like rent and power, you can have competent people perform personal care and other services at your home – massage, mani-pedi, haircut, sewing (dresses, curtains, slipcovers), you name it.

Recently I had a couple of ‘home writing workshop’ sessions, courtesy of my daughter Ik. What’s fantastic about her service is that it’s fast, free, and comes with a thumbs-up and a hug.

One day, after reading a couple of blog posts, she delivered her critique:

On the happy feet tales: baby steps: “You just took a walk home, but you made a whole story out of it that sounds important. It’s so poetic!”

On the center of the world: “You just took a walk around campus, but you made it sound like a big deal. It’s too…poetic! With a lot of big words just to describe a walk around your school!”

Me: “You’re saying it’s wordy?

Ik: “No, I’m just saying it’s too poetic!”

A couple of days later, upon reading yes, i write like a girl, Ik said: “Nice!”

Me (surprised): “You don’t find it too…poetic, perhaps?”

Ik: “No. I thought about it. You’re just using your English vocabulary. It’s good you’re doing that, because English has a lot of words that aren’t being used. It discombobulates me.”

Me (flabbergasted): “Uhh…that’s very insightful. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Thanks. Will you do this again for me next time?”

Ik: “Sure!” (gives me two thumbs-up and a hug)

Oh…have I mentioned that she just turned twelve last month?

I like her home writing workshop service, and I’ll be sure to use it again. And again and again.

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