Posts Tagged ‘creative non-fiction’

tim tomlinson comes to town

It was with great pleasure and interest that my daughter signed up for the three-day creative writing workshop conducted by writer Tim Tomlinson at the Filipinas Heritage Library last month.

It was a coincidence that I bought online, just a month before, the CW textbook that Tim co-wrote – The Portable MFA in Creative Writing – and that he drew on as a basis for the workshop lessons.

I got it online via Amazon

I asked my daughter to take it with her and have it autographed. She waited for the right moment, and figured it was after Tim told the workshop participants to try to get the “hard copy”. So she brought out my book, and his eyes widened in surprise.

That is why he wrote this dedication.

“For Jennifer – Thanks so much for purchasing the hard copy. All the best, T”. 

With e-books now becoming more common, and photocopied handouts more the norm rather than not in countries such as ours where some books, especially textbooks, are not easy to come by, it must be even more gratifying for authors when readers go to the trouble and expense of purchasing an ink-and-paper copy.

I’m glad I did get the hard copy of this book, because through the serendipitous happenstance of fate, I was able to get it autographed – a tangible, physical mark of the author, which elevates my copy from the disembodied words of experts into a living, breathing work of a person who practices what he preaches.

Too bad I did not get to meet Mr Tomlinson, nor was my daughter able to have her photo taken with him and the other workshop participants. But what counts is that she learned much that will help and guide her in her fiction writing.

Life works in mysterious ways.

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krip yuson: lush life

Last year, through the social connectivity magic of Facebook, I had the privilege of “meeting” writer Krip Yuson and  adding him to my list of Friends. From time to time he’d comment on links I’d post on my Wall. One particular weekend, I found a handful of literary links that he was quite pleased with, enough to send me an autographed copy of his newest book Lush Life: Essays 2001-2010 (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011).

I received the package he sent via LBC the morning I had to leave for the racetrack to attend a horseracing event. Excited, and wanting to savor the treat, I took the parcel along with me.

“Lush Life” nestled in the base of the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners (MARHO) mother trophy, created by sculptor Ed Castrillo from brass. The event was held at Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite, from 15-20 November 2011.

Alfred “Krip” Yuson is a prolific, multi-awarded essayist and columnist who writes a column on literature and culture for the Philippine Star and teaches poetry and fiction at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Here’s an excerpt from “Getting Literary in Oz-Land”, first published in Philippines Graphic magazine, 29 May 2006. I love the Heinlein reference:

Walking through the Botanical Gardens [in Sydney] one early evening, I chanced in on a midsummer open-air concert featuring Tchaikovsky’s “1812″. The freebie audience I joined manifested the national character. Aussie couples, families, and large, motley groups were all lolling about in their comfort zones on the grass lawns and hillocks, romancing their beers. Some lay supine on mats, taking in the night sky as the musical strains led to the climactic crescendo-cum-cannonade – which was of course accomplished by real cannons by the bandstand.

Fireworks lit up that night sky to complement the cannonade, the mighty percussion, and ascending, spiraling strings. Oh what a scene to be in, to be part of – no stranger in a strange land, but one in the midst of casual if sublime revelry, all senses gratified, even one’s sense of marvelous environment.

Krip autographed the book’s flyleaf for me.

The collection of 75 essays is “proof, were further proof needed, that [Krip] has few equals in the field of non-fiction,” says UST Publishing House director and University of the Philippines creative writing professor emerita Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo.

The book, she adds, “demonstrates how a life fully lived – its dizzying heights scaled, its dark depths plumbed – combined with a large soul, an ironic vision, an unfailingly playful sense of humor, and the gift of bending the language to his every whim, are what lead to great writing.”

Not only did Krip send me a copy of his book, he also, with thoughtfulness and kindness, sent me a pack of Pei Pa Koa throat lozenges, which I shared with the racecallers at Santa Ana Park that cool November day.

Clutching the pack of Krip’s Pei Pa Koa, I pose with Philippine Racing Club’s Santa Ana Park racecallers – Vergel Caliwliw, Romy Cheng Tejada, and senior racecaller Ricardo de Zuñiga, whose father was racing writer and poet Oscar de Zuñiga. November 2011.

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eggs, ketchup, and “moon river”

In our creative non-fiction writing class this semester, our professor Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo challenged her eight students to come up with CNF narratives. These could be memoirs, travel writing, or other forms; we had to “pitch” our ideas to her first. If they passed muster, we were told to proceed with writing. PhD students like myself had to write a work no shorter than fifty pages. I pitched the idea of a memoir and have written 53 pages so far, with the work still unfinished.

It’s a work in progress. Here’s an excerpt from my chapter on Bacolod City, where I lived for a year when I was eight:

In Bacolod we ate a lot of chicken because Lola Bennett ran a huge poultry farm in addition to the sugar cane plantation. On a couple of visits the foreman gave me undersized hen’s eggs that didn’t pass their quality control inspections. I kept several of them under the bed in my room, right on the orange carpeting. Some months later one of the maids found them. She called my lola, lifted the bed skirt, and pointed to them without saying a word. My little collection was taken away. “Eggs are not toys,” I was told. Too bad. I liked those eggs, some of them as tiny as quail eggs with pebbly surfaces of calcium carbonate in raised and ridged patterns, random as nature makes it.  I was never taken to visit the poultry farm again after that.

My Bacolod nanny, Mila, was scolded over that incident for not watching me carefully enough to know that I was smuggling home rejected eggs. I don’t think she was with us when we visited the poultry farms; she wasn’t with me all the time, as far as I remember. I usually saw her at bath time, when she’d take me to my white-tiled bathroom off my bedroom, switch on the shower, and try to whip up a soapy lather in the hard water which ran out of the pipes. At first I resented her bathing me because I told her I had been giving myself baths in Manila since I was seven years old. She smiled and said, “Your lola told me to,” and we both knew there was no arguing after that. I came to love the way she wrapped me up in thick white towels and rubbed me dry, giving me a quick hug before letting go.

After the egg episode Yayay Mila whispered to me, “Nugay nga hampang sang pagkaon. (Don’t play with food.) I know other things you can do.”  One night she handed me her notebook, about the size of a pocketbook, hardbound, and filled with smooth creamy pages half-filled with her notes written in flowing cursive with a black fountain pen. She opened to a page and pointed to the title at the top – “Moon River”. “This is a beautiful song,” she said. “Memorize the words and learn it.” She sang it to me in a light soprano. “Moon river, wider than a mile, I’m crossing you in style, some day…” I’ve associated that song with her ever since, although I have forgotten what she looked like. I wonder if she ever did find and cross her own moon river.

I deeply admired her notebook – all I had for school were the usual ruled spiral notebooks with thin cardboard covers and cheap paper – but I never thought to ask if she could get me one. Now I know what it is like – a Moleskine notebook – and the memory of this may explain why my stationery drawer is crammed with Moleys of different sizes.

Another time she took me out into the garden, bearing a basin of soapy water. She made for a gumamela bush, plucked a handful of its glossy leaves, and showed me how to pound the leaves in the soapy water with a rock. Making ‘o’s with our hands, we blew bubbles that were strong and did not easily pop, even when poked by leaves or sticks. I pealed with laughter, and for most of that afternoon blew myriads of rainbow bubbles into being, sending them down the garden path and up into the air to bounce in the light, as Yayay Mila beamed.

Mila also took care of feeding me. I was fed – usually with scrambled or sunny-side up eggs for breakfast, for lunch and dinner fried chicken and rice, no ketchup – in the “clean kitchen” off the dining area, which was furnished with 1950s-style folding metal chairs with red leather seats – a set of four – and a matching table. That kitchen was painted white and was always very very clean, since nothing was actually cooked there. That room glows in my mind, always flooded with light, because a screen door at one end let sunshine in during the day. Through it I could see coconut trees, ornamental plants, and the Bermuda grass of lola’s well-kept lawn. Green and white and brown are the colors I associate with Bacolod – the colors of sun and earth and garden and fried chicken.

Nowadays I can’t get enough ketchup.

Images: Egg in hand here. Ketchup here. Gumamela (hibiscus) here.

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pop goes the world: culture stock

POP GOES THE WORLD, By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 7 October 2010, Thursday

Culture Stock

Where resides a nation’s heart and soul?

This was the question that several university professors, media professionals, and I discussed the other night during a PhD class at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. It stemmed from College of St. Benilde professor Rod Rivera’s report on theaters in Manila that screen films bordering on the pornographic.  There are those, he said, that claim that such theaters in Quiapo and Recto are a front for male prostitution.

From there, Dr. Jose Lacson segued to commercialism in television and film. Advertising executive Chitchat Diangson said that much of television content in dictated by what producers believe will sell, leading to the creation of mind-numbing programs like “Wowowee”. Professor Bea Lapa deplored the entertainment media’s unwillingness to raise the programming bar in standards and taste, while writer Nina Villena brought up the issue of media gatekeeping. Women’s development professor and staunch feminist Julienne Baldo decried the media’s reinforcement of negative stereotypes of gender and class, perpetuating cruel cycles of prejudice and bias that further retard national social development.

Prof. Julienne Baldo analyzes the poster of  ”Serbis” at a theater in Quiapo.

Which brings us back to our question and its possible answer. It is in art where commercialism does not hold absolute sway and the discourse on social issues may be expanded without the taint of capitalism and the imperative of profit. There are those of us who write, paint, make music, and sculpt not for money, but because we need to express the meanings and concepts that burn within us and cry to be expressed and physically manifested in forms that may be shared with others.

These forms – books, songs, paintings, theater plays – often do not translate into income for their creators, but that was not the point of their creation anyway. It is in a nation’s art that current social events and issues are poked, cut up into bits, and licked to find out what they taste like. What’s important to people? That is what floats up in the content being made nowadays, and is disseminated over channels such as the Internet.

Dulaang UP scored one such intellectually-shaking triumph with their recent hit production “Shock Value”, written by Floy Quintos and directed by Alexander Cortez. It’s been given a positive review by MST opinion editor Adelle Chua, who focused her piece on the play’s theme of the commercialization of television, and how producers of celebrity shows of mass attraction artificially manufacture the scandals and intrigues that make up its content.

“Shock Value” cast members sashay across the stage. (Dulaang UP photo)

Among its stars in its cast are John Lapus, Mylene Dizon, Andoy Ranay, Christian Alvarado, and the awesomely talented Sabina Santiago. As “Little Tweety Girl”, Santiago’s hilarious on-stage simulation of an orgasm, eyes rolling back in her head, demotes Meg Ryan’s performance in “When Harry Met Sally” to amateur status.

Dulaang UP’s next offering is “Isang Panaginip na Fili”, “an edgy, dreamlike interpretation” of the Jose Rizal novel El Filibusterismo by writer/director Quintos, which will run from November 24 to December 12 at UP Diliman’s Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater. Call (02)926-1349 or (02)433-7840 for tickets.

“Isang Panaginip na Fili” publicity still, courtesy of Dulaang UP.

A fresh take on heartbreak, loss, and recovery comes from writer Carljoe Javier by way of his non-fiction book The Kobayashi Maru of Love, with artwork and design by Adam David of the Youth and Beauty Brigade. It’s available at avalon.ph.

Says Carljoe: “I wrote The Kobayashi Maru of Love because, first, I was trying to understand (a recent) breakup, and I was trying to work through my feelings about it. Like any breakup, there are nasty emotions that follow, and I was going through all that. But I thought that if I was forced to apply aesthetic distance, if I was forced to try and be funny about it, that I would be able to cope better. And as I got back into the dating game, well, things were just funny and had to be written about.”

The book is indeed funny, but beyond that, it dwells on themes that nearly everyone who reads it can relate to. “I think that I’m talking about something universal,” says Carljoe, “and that’s loss. Pretty much everyone has gone through a heartbreak or a heartache. I guess that I was just trying to connect to that, to make the book not just about my own personal heartbreak, but to make it for everyone who’s ever been through it. Our individual experiences are different, but the hurt is the same. So I wanted to write a book that talked about that.”

Carljoe’s next book, Geek Tragedies, will be published by UP Press next year. “I have a number of projects in the works,” he says, “among them a book I hope to write about the Filipino diaspora and the effect that having parents abroad have on kids; a book about me, a fat man trying to get healthy; and a novel.” A freelance writer and editor of the Philippine Online Chronicles, he is also taking his MA Creative Writing at UP’s College of Arts and Letters.

Art in this country is alive and well and a thriving part of our culture, a part that is not a slave to commercialism but is free to speak out on social matters, the human condition, and what lives inside the Filipino heart and soul. ***

Photo above, L-R: (front) writer Bambi Harper, UP professor emeritus Dr. Cristina Hidalgo. (back) writers Waldo Petralba, Jeena Marquez, and Carljoe Javier.

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