Posts Tagged ‘essay’

pop goes the world: one class, three palanca essays

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  23 August 2012, Thursday

One Class, Three Palanca Essays

There is a wealth of stories in the places we call home.

“I am always drawn to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods,” wrote Truman Capote in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and this seems to be a universal yearning. For what are autobiography and memoir in a certain sense but a return to one’s home, an exploration of memory that time has washed over with a sheen of sentiment, an Instagram photo rather than a jarringly colorful image.

The concept of home is so powerful that works that deal with it seldom fail to capture interest. This is true for three Carlos Palanca Memorial Award-winning essays from last year and this.

Last year’s winner for first was myself for “The Turn for Home: Memories of Santa Ana Park”, which explores my early adulthood as a wife and young mother lived beside the now-defunct Makati racetrack.

The second place winner was Jeena Rani Marquez-Manaois’s “River of Gold”, memories of her youth in Cagayan de Oro. Here’s an excerpt from her draft from 2010:

“This golden fish was not some prince under an evil spell. It had been a golden fish all its life in the Cagayan River, which was why, according to the grown-ups who explained it to me, “de Oro” became a part of the city’s name.

“Some of the older people of the city swore they had seen it. The colossal fish had emerged from the Cagayan River sometime in the 1950s. It was so huge that all of Cagayan de Oro City shook violently in a mighty quake when it came out of the depths of the Cagayan River.

“Those who had seen it in their childhood claim it was not a fish; it couldn’t have been because of its towering height and the power of its majestic movement. It was a sleeping red dragon which lives in an invisible river beneath the San Agustin Cathedral on one side of Carmen Bridge.”

This year’s first prize winner is Hammed Q. Bolotaolo, a well-traveled man with an interesting past spent in Malate and a present spent roaming around the world. His winning esssay combines elements from his “Malate” (2010) and “Of Legends” (2011) pieces.

From his “Malate” draft:

“I also remember one bar along Adriatico having a logo of a small, partially damaged plane in blue neon lights, with fractured windows and wings and busted rudder and propeller. It was no longer working except for its flashing beacon. Whenever I found myself staring at it as a young boy, I wondered whether the plane had really crashed on that spot.  It looked real from what I could tell. And I never asked my mother. But such is Malate: a fusion of illusion and reality, a dreamy place of incandescent lights, of virile laughter and vigor.”

All different places, different homes. But these three pieces have one thing in common: they have their origins in a couple of creative non-fiction writing graduate classes taught at the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters by professor emerita Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo.

Dr. Hidalgo, often called “Ma’am Jing” by her students, is one of the foremost teachers and writers of CNF. In those classes held during the first and second semesters of 2010-2011, she not only guided us in the technique of our craft, she also encouraged us to tap deep within ourselves for the creative impetus that would allow us to write not only with lyricism and beauty, but with truth and honesty.

For the first class, her instructions were “write about a place;” during the second, “write about a personal memory.”  We wrote, critiqued each other’s work, and in the process shared food, laughter, and our lives.

Those classes were home in the way no other classes were, and we were family to each other.

It is perhaps the first and only time that a class under one professor has produced three Palanca Award-winning essays. I hope this is mentioned during Palanca Awards Night on September 1. How rare and beautiful is that?

It would be a fitting tribute to a well-beloved teacher, who nurtured her students and helped them fulfill the potential of their talents and make their own contributions to Philippine arts and letters.

Thank you, Ma’am Jing, and happy birthday (August 21). We couldn’t have done it without you.   *** 

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the last word

From my bookshelves: “The Last Word”, by Earl Shorris, essay published in Harper’s Magazine and reprinted in The Best American Essays 2001, ed. Kathleen Norris ( Houghton-Mifflin Company, New York: 2001).

Earl Shorris has written fourteen books of fiction and non-fiction. In this essay he speaks about language – how it lives, how it dies, how there are efforts to preserve at least some of those that are in danger of dying out.

English, he says, “dominates the world,” being the lingua franca of science, the Internet, popular culture. But “cultures change,” he says, “and languages survive by metamorphosis and the aesthetics of their creators.” Some dying languages can and should be brought back, if only to save the rich meanings that exist only in that language.

He ends the essay thus:

It is not merely a writer’s conceit to think that the human world is made of words and to remember that no two words in all the world’s languages are alike. Of all the arts and sciences made by man, none equals a language, for only a language in its living entirety can describe a unique and irreplaceable world. I saw this once, in the forest of southern Mexico, when a butterfly settled beside me. The color of it was a blue unlike any I had ever seen, hue and intensity beyond naming, a test for the possibilities of metaphor…

There are nine different words in Maya for the color blue…but just three Spanish translations, leaving six butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya, proving beyond doubt that when a language dies six butterflies disappear from the consciousness of the earth.

Image here.

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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

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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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yes, i write like a girl

I had my first creative writing workshop experience a couple weeks ago in our non-fiction writing class taught by Dr Jing Hidalgo. I had no idea what she meant by choosing our “workshop slots” or what a session would entail. Before mine began she murmured, “Is this your first time? Try not to be sensitive. It’s a learning experience.” Since I was already herky-jerky nervous, not knowing what to expect, that got me even more anxious.

As it turned out she – and quite a few of my classmates (the women) – enjoyed my piece (about the old Santa Ana Park racetrack). They were swept up in the narrative, interested in the sprinkling of karera terms, curious about the lifestyle of a little-known sport (horseracing) and way of life. The men had much to say, mostly on technique – the introduction, scene transition, and so on.

Which showed me how differently the minds of men and women work. Is it a sex-based wired-in-the-brain thing? A male friend told me just last month, “Your ‘Pop Goes the World’ columns (opinion for the daily Manila Standard-Today) are getting better. As for the other stuff – try not to write like a girl.” I pondered upon that, long and dreary, till I was weak and weary, into the wee hours of the night. Mainly I wondered, has my friend not noticed that I am a girl? As the raven quoth, “Nevermore”, I suppose.

My ‘Pop Goes…” columns come primarily from the brain. They are analyses of cultural phenomena in Philippine society, rooted in social science and literary theory, social commentaries from my viewpoint as a communication practitioner and scholar.

The rest of my written work comes from the heart. I use the tools of my art, weaving words and ideas and emotion into nets of fragile gossamer beauty or fabrics of wild or subtle color and texture and dimension, to craft with much care works that are ephemeral, existing as they do on only as ink on paper or dancing electrons on a screen, but that will have their existence in your mind and remain there, alive, as long as you are, as long as you do not forget.

My heart is a girl’s heart of sixteen summers, warmed by the sunshine of love and tenderness, battered by the storms of rejection and adversity, strong and resilient enough to go on beating with hope and still more glowing hope.

It is from this heart that I offer the essays that get the most pageviews and comments and re-tweets – the “popcorn manifesto”, the column on my sisters and daughters.

It is when I write from my girl’s heart that I reach and touch more.

My male friend said, “Make them think.” Yet do I accomplish more that is humanly significant when I also make them feel?

My male friend said, “We are not teenagers anymore.”

In my heart I am, ever naïve and gullible, with a core of unshaken innocence that believes no matter how evil some people are, how they may hurt you and others, still good is out there, and life is a quest to look for it to preserve and protect our humanity, the condition in which we shall exist in the face of advancing technology and much of world culture’s seeming slide into barbarism and cruelty.

Good is out there and I keep searching. Sometimes I find it.

There will be other workshops in our creative writing class. I will hear Dr Hidalgo and my classmates critique my forthcoming essays, and I will hone my writing skills. Perhaps I will become more technically proficient, adept at the active opening, smooth transition, and insightful ending. My male friend might have more to say on why he prefers my cerebral pieces to the emotional.

But I will always write like a girl.

Do not be afraid of that. My heart is open, even if yours is not. Come then, into mine.

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