Posts Tagged ‘non-fiction’

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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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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the happy feet tales: baby steps

Once upon a time, in a big city on one of the big islands of a tropical archipelago close to the equatorial belt where the best coffee in the world grows, there lived a pair of feet.

They were happy feet.

The happy feet loved to walk. Oh, how they could walk! The right happy foot and the left happy foot would take turns being in front, one after the other, walking around the city, getting from one place to another, doing what they were made to do.

But the happy feet were attached to the ankles of a lazy writer who stayed indoors for weeks on end, her bottom growing roots into her armchair as she typed boring articles and surfed the Intarwebz for hours and hours.

The happy feet didn’t get to go out much. That made them sad.

One day the lazy writer’s doctor-classmate-from-school said: You must exercise. I recommend walking. Everyday.

But how, the lazy writer asked.

Baby steps, he said. Take baby steps.

One day, the lazy writer put on a pair of wooden sandals. They were also called “Happy Feet“. The lazy writer’s happy feet loved them because they were light, which meant they could move faster.

They were cool, so the happy feet would not feel hot even on a blazing summer day.

They were open, and the happy feet loved that best of all! Because that meant the happy feet’s toes could wiggle and jiggle and wriggle like toes love to do.

The lazy writer took a cab to work because she was late for a meeting, as she usually was. On her way back home, she remembered her doctor-classmate-from-school’s advice. Baby steps, she told herself. I will walk home.

The happy feet were so excited!

The right happy foot and the left happy foot took turns taking baby steps, one in front of the other, walking towards home, as their toes wiggled and jiggled and wriggled with joy.

They walked dusty gray pavements, but they didn’t mind; there were many things to see along the way.

The happy feet met a plant that grew close to the ground. Its stalk and leaves were very green and they reached out to passing feet. Clip-clop, clip-clop, went the happy feet in the wooden sandals past the plant-in-the-pavement.

Along the way there was a sign for the lazy writer’s favorite energy drink on the facade of a sari-sari store in an old house. Beside the store was an old church. It had red-painted walls. Clip-clop, clip-clop went the happy feet past the store-in-a-house.

When the happy feet first set out, the sun was hidden behind gray clouds. After a while, the sun came out. It shone on the lazy writer’s head. A tall tree’s leaves glowed bright green against the sun, making the lazy writer squint and blink. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the tree-in-sunlight.

They passed the site of an old racetrack. Once there were loud fans cheering race horses on. Now there were no more fans, no more horses, and no more track. Big noisy construction machines had leveled the place into the ground. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the once-a-racetrack.

The happy feet met another plant. It was growing in a large metal can that once held infant formula, but now had holes punched with nails all over its bottom while inside it was soil from the old racetrack. The plant was healthy. Its leaves were pretty. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the plant-in-a-can.

They rounded a corner and saw a big concrete horse’s head. It once sat on the gate in front of the old racetrack. Folks had taken the head down, cleaned it, and put it on a pedestal covered with tiles. This was so that people would always remember the old racetrack. The happy feet knew they were near home. Clip-clop, they went, taking baby steps a little bit faster, past the horse’s-head-marker.

Before them was a long stretch of road. Green tricycles lined up under big old mango trees wrapped in a rainbow, waiting to take passengers where they wanted to go. The drivers asked the lazy writer if she wanted to take a ride. No, thank you, she said. I’ll keep on walking. Clip-clop, went the happy feet past the tricycles-in-rainbow.

At last they came to their street. Close to the corner were two fighting-cock farms. Inside the red gate and the blue gate were many scratch pens of wood, like triangles set into the ground. There were also tall fly pens of wood and plastic mesh. There were many fighting cocks, crowing tik-ti-laok. The happy feet knew they were very near home. Clip-clop they went past the cockpits-in-city.

At last the happy feet were home! The lazy writer was happy too. She had taken baby steps to exercise and it wasn’t bad. It felt very good. And she saw a lot of interesting things along the way. She decided to take a walk more often. The happy feet were glad they got to do what they were made to do. And the toes wiggled and jiggled and wriggled for joy.

~ The End ~

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on writing

Someone once asked me, “What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?”

I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather do.

I grew up in homes full of books. Wherever we lived, there were always bookcases stuffed to bursting with my mother’s self-help books, collection of hardbound classics, and mystery, fantasy, horror, and science fiction paperbacks, or low shelves on the floor with my father’s choices in literature – Somerset Maugham, Gore Vidal, Sholom Aleichem.

My parents never consciously encouraged me to read, but surrounded by books and little else to do, I gravitated towards the shelves that were always open to me. I thrived on a literary diet of Enid Blyton and Louisa May Alcott, Nancy Drew and The Bobbsey Twins, Bulfinch’s Mythology and old-fashioned poetry, the rhyming kind like Gunga Din and The Ballad of Sam McGee.

In time, words and the putting together of them in sentences to convey meaning came as naturally to me as breathing. In school, my favorites subjects were the ones that used a lot of words – English, Social Studies. Math was anathema. In college, I took up Journalism. It was either that or English Studies, and I figured I’d have a better chance of earning through writing if I were a journalist, although my mother always said that there was no money in writing.

Today I make my living from it.

Often people ask, “Can you teach me how to write?” It’s a difficult question to answer, because the process is different for everybody. Some say that the talent is inborn. Perhaps to some extent that might be true; I believe some inclinations come naturally to people, like musical talent or athletic ability. But writing is also a skill that can be learned and cultivated, and anyone can do it. For the philosopher Jean Jacques Rosseau, “However great a man’s natural talent may be, the art of writing cannot be learned all at once.”

Some thoughts on writing that I’ve formed over the years:

1. Writing is a form of communication, just like speaking. Having problems starting your piece? Pretend you are talking to someone about it. Write it down that way. Then go back over what you’ve written and edit.

2. Writing uses language. To write effectively, you must know the language and its rules. Words are the construction materials, grammar the nails and mortar that hold them together. Immerse yourself in the language to build up your vocabulary. Even if you are writing in your mother tongue, don’t take it for granted that you know all the words or even enough of them. Read books and magazines. Watch television shows and films. Listen to native speakers and soak up the rhythm of their speech patterns. Choose a usage and composition guide – I was introduced to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style in my freshman year of college, and have adhered to its tenets ever since.

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3. Less is more. I’ve always clung to Strunk’s Rule Number 17: “Omit needless words.” Bombarded as we are on all fronts by information vying for our attention, why make it harder for your reader to decode your message? Related to this is White’s advice: “Avoid fancy words.” If there exists a simpler word that conveys the same meaning and nuance, use it. But in the end, always go by your ear – use whatever sounds right. As Matthew Arnold said, “Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.” The exception would be if you were deliberately using the fancy word or words to achieve a certain effect.

4. Organize, organize, organize. I believe this is the most important part of the writing process. It doesn’t matter that you can use big words like venustation or ptochology if you can’t put your thoughts and facts down in a sequence that will help the reader understand the message you wish to convey. Pay attention to the flow of your ideas; for your piece to be effective, it has to make sense, one thought leading to another in a logical manner.

5. Practice, practice, practice. Writing is a skill, like bicycling or blacksmithing. Write something everyday. Said Doris Lessing: “You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing.” Or take Mary Heaton Vorse: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” It takes discipline, but it pays off, I promise.  Take advantage of today’s technological advances and the myriad means of self-expression. Write your feelings down in a journal, or publish your opinions on a blog. One of the easiest ways is microblogging using applications like Twitter. If you can text, you can write!

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6. Edit, edit, edit. Few, if any, first drafts are perfect. Go over what you’ve written and clean up typographical errors, spelling and grammar mistakes, factual inaccuracies, conceptual inconsistencies, and sequence flow. Science fiction writer C. J. Cherryh asserted, “It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.”

7. Be yourself. In the beginning, writers tend to copy the style of the authors they admire. But the most natural and authentic voice is your own; have confidence in yourself. Said Bill Stout: “Whether or not you write well, write bravely.”

8. Write from your heart. Whether you seek to persuade or inform, the reader responds best to pieces that are sincere and honest.

Winston Churchill, one of the best statemen and writers that Britain has ever produced, once declared, “Writing is an adventure.” It is a journey anyone can take. May yours be filled with the thrill of discovery and the joy of creativity!

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barack obama: the audacity of hope

Some years after the publication of his first book, Dreams from my Father, United States president Barack Obama followed up with Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, written when he was Illinois state senator and published in 2006.

Here are his philosophical thoughts on how United States should be run, which direction it should go for the future, what shape its foreign policy should take, and other musings on politics, faith, and family.

Obama is convinced that, among many other things, America needs to improve its educational programs in science and mathematics, find alternative sources of energy to ease dependence on foreign sources of oil, and inculcate a work-life balance attitude so that stressed families can cope with the pressures of daily life without burning out.

The book is well-researched; Obama’s reflections and recommendations are clear-headed and logical. Though his own personal beliefs may impact his view of American national issues, he acknowledges that his stances may be “misguided” and that other options are possible.

For example, his opposition to gay marriage is faith-based; yet, he declares that “…it is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights.” Fence-sitting? Or a willingness to listed to the other side and seek a compromise acceptable to the majority, if not all?

Throughout the text, there pervades a spirit of tolerance, open-mindedness, understanding, love, and yes, hope and change, those two keywords of his campaign. But these are no mere catchphrases; Obama believes in these virtues, and that through them the United States will overcome its problems and become stronger and better.

He explains where the title of the book comes from. Reflecting upon the life stories of the men and women he met in his work as a community organizer, legislator, and senator, those lives full of struggles and hardship borne with “a relentless optimism”, he says

It brought to mind a phrase that my pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., had once used in a sermon.

The audacity of hope.

That was the best of the American spirit, I thought – having the audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary that we could restore a sense of community to a nation torn by conflict; the gall to believe that despite personal setbacks, the loss of a job or an illness in the family or a childhood mired in poverty, we had some control – and therefore responsibility – over our own fate.

It was that audacity, I thought, that joined us as one people. It was that pervasive spirit of hope that tied my own family’s story to the larger American story, and my story to those of the voters I sought to represent.

It remains to be seen, now that he is president of the world’s only superpower, whether he will hew to the philosophy he has sketched out here, or deviate to follow party lines, give in to pressure from other interests, or compromise to achieve desired results.

Barack_obama

This is so far my favorite portrait of U.S. President Barack Obama. Taken at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex in Washington, 23 March 2009. Reuters/Jason Reed.

The book is a must-have. For here we see the character of the man leading the United States and influencing the policies of a great many other countries. Here is his map for the future. Here we see one man’s vision for his country and his dream for stability, freedom, and, yes – world peace.

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barack obama: dreams from my father

When still a law student in 1995, United States President Barack Obama penned the memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, “in the wake of some modest publicity” he says, as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

Born to a white American mother and black father from Kenya, Obama, while growing up, struggled with  issues stemming from his multi-racial descent and from his father’s absence from his life.

As an adult, he established contact with his Kenyan relatives, who told him somewhat of their family history. But it wasn’t until after Obama visited Kenya, met other family members, and walked upon the soil of his ancestors that he achieved closure and a sense of resolution to his identity crisis.

It’s a wonderful book, written in a sensitive and lyrical manner, glowing in its honesty and simplicity, showcasing Obama’s considerable talents as a writer:

I watched these nimble hands stitch and cut and weave, and listened to the old woman’s voice roll over the sounds of work and barter, and for a moment the world seemed entirely transparent. I began to imagine an unchanging rhythm of days, lived on firm soil where you could wake up each morning and know that all was how it had been yesterday, where you saw how the things that you used had been made and could recite the lives of those who had made them and could believe that it would all hang together without computer terminals or fax machines.

Some years ago, I became interested in memoirs and other forms of biographical narrative  as an aspect of non-fictional creative writing. On my shelves are the life stories of individuals from varied walks of life, from English royalty to Japanese courtiers.

It’s interesting to learn about their different motivations, likes and dislikes, priorities, fears, loves – all the things that shaped and influenced them to become what they are.

Dreams from My Father is not merely a welcome addition to my collection of memoirs, a literary trophy to display on the shelf telling me about one man’s journey to discover himself. Unlike the other biographies I’ve read, it had a profound effect on me: that of forcing me to confront my own issues of identity and my relationship with my parents, especially my father. Even past middle age, I still don’t have the courage to explore the hidden recesses of my mind where childhood memories too painful to examine have been bricked up behind mentally-constructed walls.

Obama’s exploration of these issues in his own life and his decision to reveal them to the world show his strength of character and courage of conviction.

In 2006, when serving as the senator of Illinois, Obama wrote another book, Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, which, like Dreams, topped the New York Times bestseller list.

I look forward to more books by this author, wondering if, as president of the most powerful nation in the world, he will still have the time and opportunity to write. I hope he makes the time to do so. I hope we don’t have to wait until after his presidency to enjoy another book by this man who is now one of the world’s foremost leaders and one of the literary world’s bright new lights.

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dana thomas: deluxe

Journalist Dana Thomas exposes the sleaze beneath the rarefied world of high-end goods in Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster.

Luxury in all its forms and styles have existed ever since income, class, and economic status have divided people between the haves and the have-nots. With some groups of people having much more resources than they need to survive, the surplus goes towards manifesting and reinforcing their higher stature in society through extravagance and conspicuous consumption. Recall Cleopatra and the perfumed sails of her pleasure ships; Nero and the tons of roses he rained upon guests at parties; the Mughal, Chinese, and Persian emperors who surrounded themselves with finely crafted objets of silk, precious metals, gems, and porcelain.

Modern-day luxury, says Thomas, resides in brand names and the inflated prices they command. Handbags from Louis Vuitton and Prada, perfumes from Patou, and clothes from Burberry are sold in gleaming glass palaces, enticing shoppers with an aspirational dream.

Since not everyone can afford haute couture from Chanel or hand-sewn luggage from Hermes, many luxury brands create products at lower-price points at which consumers can buy into the dream. These include small leather goods such as wallets or key chains. For scents, eau de toilette is cheaper than parfum. For clothes, most signature brands carry a pret-a-porter line.

However, says Thomas, in the mad rush by large luxury conglomerates to increase net profit, corners are cut, of which the consumer, clutching her hard-earned cash, is unaware. For instance, handbags are among the high-margin products that brands push with aggressive advertising which touts the “It” bag of the moment. Thomas saw handbags produced at $120 and sold for $1,200. Louis Vuitton is said to sell its handbags at ten to thirteen times the production cost.

What stylish woman wouldn’t want a collection of the latest by Vuitton, Balenciaga, Gucci? Luxury goods are beautifully designed and well-made.

But won’t those markups make you think twice before forking over your money, especially in these tough economic times?

I’ve always wanted an LV Popincourt Haut and an Hermes Birkin. But Thomas’ book is an eye-opener. My resolve? To buy Filipino. We have lovely things – Fino Leatherware makes bags that not everyone is carrying on their arm or slung over their shoulder. Via Venetto shoes are pretty. Ivarluski Aseron and Kate Torralba are just a couple of the many talented designers who create couture with a Filipino flavor.

In the end, though, it is all a matter of choice and personal conviction, as to what your dreams are, what is truly aspirational for you, and what you would pay to buy into your dream.

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elizabeth gilbert: eat, pray, love

This is another of those books that I didn’t get when it first came out in 2006. I’ve always been kontra-pelo when it comes to trends – going against the flow – and I’m suspicious of whatever’s been declared a “best-seller”.  Who gets to say what’s hot or not?

But, seeing nothing else of interest at the bookstore, I picked up a paperback copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, and Love, without any expectations, and just settled in for a succession of letters forming words and coherent thoughts to imprint themselves on my retinas.

I was surprised that it was good.

There have been many accounts of both men and women – usually Westerners, the Americans and the British – going on journeys to exotic places to “find themselves” or achieve spiritual enlightenment. I find it hard to relate to such stories, though I enjoy reading them for the “travelogue” part. It isn’t in the Filipino culture to spend sums of money on travel for such esoteric reasons. We’re too busy trying to survive.

But that’s what makes multi-cultural interactions interesting. People are a product of their culture. It seems that it’s the Western orientation to go looking for something undefinable, something missing, something they will recognize only when they see or experience it.

Writer Liz Gilbert’s account of her own journey brings it down to a personal level, and the honesty of her story shines true. A failed marriage and a shattered relationship pushes her to put her life on hold for a year as she travels to Italy to learn the language and eat her way across the country; to India to meditate for several months in an ashram; and to Indonesia to make friends, influence people, and find love and happiness.

On a technical level, it is well-written. The net of words that Gilbert weaves is taut and shimmering; it is a pleasure to be caught up in it. From a communication perspective, it’s a look at both intra-personal and inter-personal communication practice, with a hefty dollop of intercultural insights.

On a deeper level, it is an intriguing story of how one woman manages the conflicts in her life in her own way and finds healing. It’s the tale of a Gogirl, empowered, confident, and happy.

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behrendt & tuccillo: he’s just not that into you

When He’s Just Not That Into You came out in 2004, I resisted buying a copy, even if one of my best friends got it, read it,  and loved it.

I thought, “It’s another one of those self-help baloney books that their authors write just to make money off a trend or something.” I don’t read self-help – I consider them too wimpy. I belong to the bury-your-problems-in-chocolate-ice-cream-and-then-pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps-through-sheer-willpower school of survival.

But lately, a movie made from the book came out and I wondered, how could they turn a self-help book into a movie?

I didn’t watch the movie, but I bought the book. Nothing like going straight to the source to find what’s up.

Now I wish I had read it sooner. Written by a guy and a girl who have had their share of failed relationships, the book does tell girls how guys really think. It delivers valuable and practical insights about the murky world of male-female interpersonal communication.

Basically, what authors Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, former Sex in the City writers, are saying is  - it’s no use over-analyzing a relationship. Guys tend to think one-track. And if they want out, they want out. If they tell you or show you in other ways that it’s over, accept that it’s over.

He’s not going to change his mind. He’s not going to come back. He might not come straight out and say, “I don’t love you anymore” – he may be too chicken for that or maybe doesn’t want to hurt you – but if he does, he’s telling you the truth.

Nothing you can say or do will change his mind.

If he cheats, it’s also over. Betrayal combines intent and deception. You don’t need that kind of disloyalty.

Best reaction: shut him out cold-turkey, and get on with your life, girl! In Filipino, we’d say, “Kung ayaw niya, ‘wag niya.” In other words – his loss, not yours.

Never ever beg or plead for a reconciliation. It just diminishes you in his eyes. It hurts, oh yes it hurts, but better to find out it’s not working sooner than later. Turn 180 on your high heels and walk away.

It will take a lot of strength and courage, but all of us women have that. That’s why ours is the real “stronger sex”. And it’s best to end a relationship with dignity, with your head held high, knowing that you tried your best to make it work.

As Greg says: “Don’t waste the pretty!” Make this your mantra.

Meanwhile, visualize yourself with the man of your dreams, someone who will truly love and respect you for who you are, because you are worth it!  Don’t ever settle for second-best anymore.

Behrendt continues this train of thought in his next book, written with his wife, Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt – “It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken”.

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When is this going to be made into a movie, I wonder?

Bottom line: great reads. And they’ve changed my mind about self-help books, because goodness knows ain’t no one gonna help you, baby, but yourself.

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they called me “walking encyclopedia”.

I was called this in high school, along with worse names. It had something to do with my love for books, how I would rather curl up in the stacks in the Pasay City Adventist Academy library, reading what were called “mission stories”, ’50s books on feminine deportment and hygiene with quaint sketches on how to properly put on a brassiere, and everything that I could find on ancient Egypt, while my classmates were playing volleyball and gossiping and forging strong relationships that for some remain to this day.

I’ve always been a loner. I’m not anti-social – I have hundreds of acquaintances, a great many friends, and a few very close ones. But I often preferred to spend my time reading rather than doing something else. My relationships were with fictional or historical characters, with facts and romance and adventure, and with the fancies of my own imagination.

Here are some of the books on my bedside table. Most of them I read in 2008.

They shouldn’t be stacked up on my night stand like this. They should be in the bookcases in the living room. But there isn’t any more room on the shelves, where books are crammed two-deep. Others are piled against the wall.

The books used to be in the living room, but now they have invaded my bedroom, sprouting against the walls like fungi.

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This stack rests under the a/c in my bedroom. Another stack is by the long mirror next to the closet. A third one is…hmm, I’d better stop here.

Do I mind the disorganization and chaos, like a bookshop exploded in my home? No, because (one) I made the mess myself; (two) the books make me feel comfortable and somehow safe. A house without books will never be a home for me. When I enter other people’s residences and I cannot find a single codex or publication, the hairs on the back of my neck and arms rise. I am not kidding. I cannot imagine how one can live without reading. For me is essential and necessary to sustain life, like eating and breathing.

Yes, I exaggerate somewhat. But I think of my worst nightmares, my greatest fears, and living in a world without books is close to the top of the list.

We are fortunate to live in a country where the press is (relatively) free and the Internet is uncensored and there are many bookstores that offer a wide assortment from around the world. There are places on this planet where there are no books, or what they have is heavily censored and many other titles are suppressed, where the Internet and publications are fiercely monitored by state-appointed censors who block websites or black out nude people’s private parts on magazine pages with a marker.

There are places on this planet where women are not taught to read.

There are places on this planet where no one can read.

Let’s not waste our freedom to access information.

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