Posts Tagged ‘writing’

pop goes the world: pinoy this way

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today29 September 2011, Thursday

Pinoy This Way

San Francisco, California – Every two or three years I hop on a plane for a vacation in the US with friends and family. I divide my precious few weeks’ of leave between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, revisiting old haunts and discovering new.

At Pebble Beach, one of my favorite places to visit. 26 Sept. 2011.

On the plane I sat between two prayerful Filipina ladies, both US citizens. The one on my right at the window seat was chatty. She had just escorted her ailing mother, also a citizen, to Cavite to be cared for there by other family members. “I’ll miss her,” she said, “but it’s not easy to care for seniors in the US.”

The older lady on my left (aisle seat) was meticulously made-up and dressed, a teacher at a college in Bukidnon, handling public administration and law. She was on her way to rejoin her daughter and grandchildren.

We didn’t know each other’s names, but that didn’t matter. “Ingat,” we said in farewell.

When I emerged from the airport doors pulling my luggage stuffed with ensaymada, hopia, and Queensland butter in cans, my family enfolded me in their arms and took me to IHOP for a meal. “We’re sure you’re hungry,” they said. They urged me to eat a bacon omelette, pancakes slathered with whipped butter and syrup, hash browns. (It was eleven o’clock in the evening.)

The next day we went to Target, where the woman behind the mobile phone counter explained in Tagalog-accented English to a tall white man that they do not sell jailbroken iPhones. When he had left, she shrugged at me. “Ganun talaga dito,” she said, knowing I was Pinay even if I had not opened my mouth.

The cashier who rang up our purchases was an elderly Filipina with carefully-waved salt-and-pepper hair and a stylish black-and-white scarf around her neck. She smiled knowingly as my sister and I spoke to each other in Tagalog.

At a Filipino supermarket the day after, I saw shelves crammed with Cream Silk and Sunsilk, Chippy and Chiz Curls, and Ligo sardines; refrigerated cases stuffed with Star margarine, Magnolia Ube with Beans ice cream (made in a California facility), and Pampanga tocino; racks full of San Mig Light, Pale Pilsen, and Red Horse Beer.

The aisles were decorated with fake coconut trees and banig on the walls as backdrops, whereas Target and Wal*Mart had pumpkins and Halloween masks. There was a Goldilocks’ outside and a bakery that sold hot pandesal. “Ibili natin si Papa ng mamon,” I overheard a young girl say. In those few hundred square meters was recreated a little slice of the Philippines, filled with even more bits of the Philippines that the homesick can buy to alleviate the longing for the flavors of Inang Bayan.

My sister at Island Pacific supermarket, Union City, CA.

At home, my sister uses a thick paper towel to wipe the bathroom and kitchen counters clean; she rinses it and hangs it to dry. She reuses these paper towels until they fall apart. “Sayang e. Puede pa naman.” Our leftovers from the huge American portions at restaurants are boxed and taken home; she makes sure we eat them the next day.

When Pedring hits, Filipinos call each other up. “Have you heard about the flooding in the Philippines? Kamusta pamilya mo doon?” We trade news and commiseration.

All this reminds me of Fil-Canadian Mikey Bustos’s “Pinoy This Way” (a parody of a Lady Gaga hit), that became an Internet sensation in April: “Back home, a land far away/ Where we work hard every day/ It makes us grateful, baby, we’re Pinoy this way….Nothing ever goes to waste/ Appreciate, don’t throw away/ Baby, we’re Pinoy this way!”


Cultural values embedded through socialization at home, school, and other settings in context are difficult to shake off. They permeate our core, unconsciously, communicated through language and food and tradition and rituals.

No matter how we may intellectualize “What makes a Filipino?” and debate from whence comes identity, the reality is that if we are born in the Philippines we are steeped in it from birth, through communication, behaviors, and expectations. If we are not, it can be learned, and is generally taught by immediate family members who developed their personalities within the context of Filipino culture. It is all carried inside us and comes out when we interact with others.

What’s it all about, wherever the Filipino may be? Work. Frugality. Sacrifice. Hospitality. Food. Family. Because we’re Pinoy that way.

* * * * *

Book Bonanza:  From University of the Philippines professor emerita and University of Santo Tomas Publishing House directress Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo:

“In February of this year, the UST Publishing House launched seven more new titles… all by Thomasian writers…: The House of True Desire, essays by Cirilo Bautista; Selected Poems by Rita Gadi; At Sa Tahanan ng Alabok , poetry by Louie Sanchez; Insectisimo, poetry by Lourd de Veyra;  Superpanalo Sound,s a novel by Lourd de Veyra; Clairvoyance, poetry by Carlomar Daoana; and Body Haul, poetry by Allan Pastrana.” Also launched was Everyday Things by US-based poet Fidelito Cortes.

These books and others forthcoming are part of the “400 Years, 400 Books” Project and will be presented to the public at the closing of the University’s Quadricentennial Celebrations in January 2012. The books are already available at the UST Publishing House Bookstore on campus and in National Bookstore branches. ***

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pop goes the world: rizal – hero or zero?

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 June 2011, Thursday

Rizal: Hero or Zero?

Rizal – hero or zero?

The hotly-debated question as to whether or not Jose Rizal is worthy of the title “hero” raged anew with the celebration of the sesquicentennial of his birth last Sunday, June 19.

Born in 1861 to an affluent land-owning family in Calamba, Laguna, Rizal grew up in comparative comfort, obtained a good education at the Ateneo, Letran, and University of Santo Tomas, and developed his skills in science and the arts.

But he was not ignorant of hardship. His mother was imprisoned twice for various trumped-up offenses, the prailes in their area having cast avaricious eyes on their property. His brother Paciano was linked to native priests later charged with subversion; for this reason Jose had to use their other family name of “Rizal” rather than the one everyone else used, “Mercado”.

After his studies in the Philippines, he went abroad and obtained a medical degree and took further studies at the universities of Madrid, Paris, and Heidelberg. He came back to the Philippines, made his living as an ophthalmologist (some sources say he was the only one in South-East Asia at the time), wrote inflammatory works, and ran afoul of the Spanish colonial government.

All this background is well-known to most Filipinos – after all, being the designated “national hero”, the particulars of his life have been dinned to us from elementary school onwards. His fables of the lost slipper, tortoise and monkey, and the moths and the lamp serve as object lessons for young people, as well as cultivate the example of an observant, obedient, and prudent boy.

Hearing these stories as a child, I was first impressed, then later sickened by what I thought was abject prudery on the part of a young child. What a goody-goody, I thought. Then, in high school, we were forced to read his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which I found dreary and annoying because there wasn’t a happy ending to the Ibarra-and -Maria Clara love story.

It wasn’t until I learned more about this remarkable man when I was older that I realized just how much of the narrative about Jose Rizal that is imparted to young people is actually constructed and carefully selected to position him as a role model. He had fun, sowed his wild oats, and generally behaved as an ordinary red-blooded male, with the difference that he had greater things on his mind.

Some have criticized the choice of Rizal to bear the mantle of “national hero”. It was all hype created by the Americans, they say, therefore a decision tinged with a colonial agenda. Elevating to hero status a short, soft-spoken writer over the warriors Bonifacio, Aguinaldo, and others of their ilk was their way of keeping the brown Filipino monkeys in subliminal subjugation.

Critics add that Rizal wrote in Spanish, the language of the colonial oppressor.

Yet the upshot of the decades of Rizal in the top hero’s seat has resulted in his image being iconic to all Filipinos. His statues dot the lawns of school campuses and national parks nationwide. The silhouette of his face, outfitted with aviator-style shades, emblazons t-shirts and tote bags that are so popular, merchandisers can’t keep them in stock. Whether or not he deserves to be national hero, or whether another personality deserves the honor more, is a moot point. For now, he fulfills that role, like it or not.

But it that so bad? Filipinos aged 40 and older, who had to take the mandatory 3 units of the Rizal course and 12 units of Spanish in college, gained a better appreciation of how Rizal’s mind worked. He was a peaceful revolutionary, who sparked a people’s fight for independence with thoughts and ideas rather than bullets and knives.

His weapon of choice was a fountain pen and a bottle of ink. From these flew concepts so potent that the Spanish colonial government was more frightened of him than of the gun-toting revolucionarios. It was Rizal whom they wished to neutralize. They tried threats, they tried exile, but in the end they knew the only way they could still his patriotic heart was to put a bullet through it.

At a certain point we can decide for ourselves whether or not Rizal was a hero. As a writer, I choose to admire him, accepting his human frailties that all of us possess in some form or another.

Jose Rizal was a poet, artist, scholar, physician, swordsman, journalist, traveler, reformist, son, brother, lover, friend.

He was a writer whose many essays and two novels – Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo – shook an oppressive foreign colonial regime, woke a people’s sense of nationalism, and led to the establishment of a country. His beliefs never wavered and he remained steadfast, even as he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for those beliefs.

He was a fighter who took up a pen instead of gun or sword to win our country’s freedom with thoughts and ideas rather than force.

He was a martyr, shot by firing squad in a grassy field.

His 150th birthday was also Father’s Day, yet we cannot wish him that. He was not a father. He didn’t have time.

For all that he was, he is my hero.

* *  * * *

In other news, activist-poet Axel Pinpin recently told me about his upcoming writing project. Well known for his poetry in Filipino and “spoken word” performances reminiscent of Gil Scott Heron (find them on Youtube), Axel has ventured into the short story form and creative non-fiction to which he brings his own brand of wry humor, a search light that he manages to shine into the darkest corners of life experiences.

It’s a rare talent that deserves a wider audience, and he’s asked me to lend a hand with translation of his short stories. It’s a great honor to be asked to work with an artist of his skill; he could have had his pick from his wide circle of literary friends. I look forward to the chance to work with him.

Artistic collaborations are unpredictable; like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you’ll never know what you’re going to get, and that’s exciting. *** (Email:, Blog:, Facebook: Gogirl Cafe, Twitter: @jennyortuoste)

Rizal self-sketch here. Rizal in Luna’s Paris studio here. Axel Pinpin portrait here.

taste more:

ernest hemingway, on writing

Ernest Hemingway, on writing:

“What difference does it make if you live in a picturesque little outhouse surrounded by 300 feeble minded goats and your faithful dog? The question is: Can you write?”

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.”

“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

“For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.”

“When I am working on a book or story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day next you hit it again.”

Ernest Hemingway fishing off Key West, circa 1928. Image here.

“i believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try and make it absolutely perfect; or if not that then wonderful. Then you write for who you love whether they can read or write or not and whether they are alive or dead.”

“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”

“In order to write about life first you must live it.”

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.”

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

“Good writing is good conversation, only more so.”

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”

“If a writer stops observing he is finished. Experience is communicated by small details intimately observed.”

Ernest Hemingway works on “For Whom the Bell Tolls” at  Sun Valley Resort in 1939. Image  here.

“It’s harder to write in the third person but the advantage is you move around better.”

“Remember to get the weather in your damn book–weather is very important.”

“…it is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply. ”

“The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life and one is as good as the other.”

“It’s this way, see–when a writer first starts out, he gets a big kick from the stuff he does, and the reader doesn’t get any; then, after a while, the writer gets a little kick and the reader gets a little kick; and finally, if the writer’s any good, he doesn’t get any kick at all and the reader gets everything.”

“Since I had started to break down all my writing and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do.”

“I sometimes think my style is suggestive rather than direct. The reader must often use his imagination or lose the most subtle part of my thought.”

Hemingway and Castro. Image here.

“Show the readers everything, tell them nothing.”

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

“Write drunk; edit sober.”

“Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.”

“Any man’s life, told truly, is a novel…”

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

“The hard part about writing a novel is finishing it.”

“A man’s got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book.”

Ernest Hemingway quotes here.

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pop goes the world: language and identity

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 5 May 2011, Thursday

Language and Identity

In a multi-lingual country such as ours that has been colonized by foreigners, language and its use are inextricably linked to issues of national identity and geography.

Tagalog, or “Filipino”, is used as the country’s primary language, and is taught in schools along with English, embedded in the culture during the forty years of the American Occupation. Spanish, spoken by families of the elite during 400 years of Madre España en Filipinas, has sunk into obscurity.

The Philippines, center -the green group of islands that looks somewhat like a dinosaur. Image here.

At different times over the years, either Tagalog or English has been the main medium of instruction, a matter that has always heavily been debated, even fought over.

Cebuanos have contended in the past that there are more Cebuano, or Visayan, speakers, and that it should be the primary language. Tagalog is said to have been designated the national language only for purposes of convenience, being the language spoken in “the center” of the country, where the seat of the national government is located. It’s a case of a language being in the right place at the right time.

We are in a period where Tagalog is the medium of instruction, but many schools are placing an emphasis on the practice of English conversation, giving gold stars and other incentives to class sections that use it. Colegio de Santa Rosa in Makati, which my two daughters attend, is one such example.

Schools are said to be doing this to increase the chances of their graduates obtaining jobs in high-growth sectors such as business process outsourcing, where English fluency is a must, and overseas, because in the past couple of decades the Philippines’s number one export has been human labor.

However, the issue of language has been linked to national identity, and that is another source of contention. As a writer in and speaker of English, I have faced discrimination from native Tagalog speakers, including writers in Tagalog and other Philippine languages, for being “colonized”; I am perceived as somehow unpatriotic.

I write in English and speak it fluently because of circumstances of birth and because I grew up during a time that English was the primary medium of instruction. My sister and I were born and grew up in Manila speaking English, not Tagalog.

My parents were not unpatriotic, it was just that they were not originally from “the center”. My mother is from Bacolod City and speaks Hiligaynon, English, and Spanish; my father was from Cotabato City and spoke Chavacano, English, Spanish, Tausug, Hiligaynon, and some Cebuano and French.

Neither of them spoke Tagalog well; I never heard them speak it at home until I was in my teens. When I did, they sounded barok.

Was it any surprise, then, that they decided to teach English to us, their children? My father also felt it would give us an edge in school; back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the medium of instruction was English. How could they have taught us Tagalog, when they did not speak it fluently themselves and were not comfortable using it?

In 1993 a romance novel of mine in English – Fire and Ice – was released by Solar Publishing, which put out other titles in that series. This was during the heyday of the Tagalog romance “pocketbook”.

Around this time a writing workshop for romance novels was given at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I eagerly signed up. The main speaker was an established writer in Filipino who shall remain nameless. When she learned that my published novel was in English, she said, “Hindi ka Pilipino.” And glared.

I replied, “So you’re saying Nick Joaquin and F. Sionil Jose and Jose Rizal are not Filipino?” And walked out.

When my marriage fell apart because my ex-husband fell in love with someone else, my former in-laws told me, “Kaya ka iniwan ng asawa mo dahil Englishera ka.” Like it was a bad thing, that fluency in English was an evil thing, a right and proper reason for breaking up a family.  That made no sense, and all I could reply was, “But you knew that from the start!” It was in fact a matter of pride for them at first that I and my children have an excellent command of English, and we were paraded around to their family and friends in a Laguna town.

You can say that language plays a big role in my life.

So I read with great interest a Facebook Note posted by broadcaster Rico Hizon, now based abroad and working for BBC World News. It was the speech he gave at the Toastmasters International District 75 Annual Conference, and it was titled, “Being Proud of our Own Filipino-English Diction.”

Hizon said:The Filipino diction is clear, simple, neutral, easy to understand. The Filipino enunciates clearly, pronounces every syllable in a pleasant, even, and non-threatening tone modulated for every ear to capture its essence. And when we speak English, for instance, it is neither American nor British English. It is a Pan-Asian diction. It does not pretend to sound western but both Asians and non-Asians can easily comprehend what is being said.”

He went on to say:  “Speaking in English is not unpatriotic. We are not less Filipinos for mastering another language. We are only making good use of our gift for languages to forge ahead. English should be the medium of instruction in schools.”

I agree with Hizon. I too have the fluency and clear diction, trained as I was by my broadcaster father, who belonged to the old school and insisted on clarity in enunciation. He would have been appalled to hear the squeaky voices and mumbling indulged in by a great many TV and radio broadcasters today.

Pops and me at the ABS-CBN employees’ family day picnic, c. ’70s.

Back when I was growing up, a “golden voice” was required for one to be on radio and TV. Think Harry Gasser, Rey Langit, Orly Mercado. Who do we have on now and what do they sound like? You tell me.

I have parlayed my English fluency in writing and clear diction in speaking into skills that have gotten me work in media when my marriage broke up and I had to support my children. My writing and my voice put food on the table. Would I have been able to do this otherwise? I don’t think so.

In addition to English and Tagalog, I also speak Hiligaynon and some Spanish. I am grateful I grew up the way I did, speaking the languages I do. But just because I am more comfortable using English and Hiligaynon rather than Tagalog, does this make me less Filipino?

If you think I am, then them’s fighting words; say it to my face, so we can step outside and duke it out. If we identify as Filipino, live as Filipinos, and anticipate dying as Filipinos, then we are Filipino, no matter the language we speak, the color of our skin, even the nationality of our birth.

Because love of country resides in the heart and mind, not on our tongues.   ***

Nick Joaquin here. Rico Hizon here. Orly Mercado here.

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places in memory

I’ve been writing a memoir for a creative non-fiction writing class, and have had to deal with the nature of memory. It is different for each person, I think. I remember things and incidents as clear snapshots or short running films. Over time they lose sharpness and detail but they remain embedded, the pleasant memories to be played over and over in the wee hours.

The past has very strong associations for me, as does music, and places. There are cities that I love, because of experiences I’ve enjoyed there. There are places I have vowed never to visit again. I suppose all of us draw upon our individual histories when we look at a thing or place, coloring it with our impressions of it in the past.

In mystery writer Agatha Christie’s autobiography (published in 1977), she advises against revisiting a place to recapture a happy memory. Speaking about Cauterets in France, where she stayed one summer as a child:

I have never been back there. I am glad of that. A year or two ago, we contemplated taking a summer holiday there. I said, unthinkingly: I should like to go back. It was true. But then it came to me that I could not go back. One cannot, ever, go back to the place which exists in memory. You would not see it with the same eyes, even supposing that it should improbably have remained much the same . What you have had, you have had. “The happy highways where I went, And shall not come again…”

Never go back to a place where you have been happy. Until you do it remains alive for you. If you go back it will be destroyed.

I wonder if I go to the same places where I was happy, could I recapture that same feeling? Christie says not. “What you have had, you have had.” Perhaps I should leave it at that.

But when I put on my rose-colored glasses, I insist that I will see things afresh, glowing and rosy, and I believe I can go back and create new memories, and they can be happy too, as happy as I can make them.

Book cover image here.

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a bacolod childhood

I’ve previously posted an excerpt from my memoir-in-progress, about the year I spent in Bacolod City when I was eight years old. Here’s another portion from that section:

I loved it in the province. I lived in Lola Bennett’s sprawling bungalow in Taculing, close to where the airport used to be, on a hacienda planted to tubo as far as the horizon. This was during the late 1970s but even by present standards that house would look fresh and contemporary. Constructed in a gated area behind high walls across the road from her tubohan, it stuck out from its surroundings like a crystal in the mud.

The house was built in the center of a large pond, slightly raised on cement pillars above the knee-high level of the water. There was a bridge one had to cross to get over the water to the front door and I thought that was extremely interesting and stylish. I have not seen such a house before or since. Orange-colored carp swam in the pond; this was decades before raising koi became fashionable. After dinner Lola Bennett, silver-haired but still vigorous in her early 60s then, would take a piece of sliced bread and go out for her “daily exercise” as she termed it. We would walk several times around the house, tearing bits of bread off and casting them into the water for the carp. The fish would follow us around, and the water would boil frenziedly with their activity as they fought over the bread.

Lolo Maeng was Lola Bennett’s second husband; he married her when she was a widow, when they were middle-aged; they had no children of their own. I was the child Lolo never had. On Saturdays he would take me to a clinic in the city for my hormone growth shots that a doctor in Manila prescribed because I was short for my age. He’d drive his snappy little red-and-cream Renault 14 himself, going very fast down the dusty backroads with the windows down and the breeze blowing our hair back, his salt-and-pepper and cut military-style, mine trimmed like a boy’s. (I was not allowed to grow my hair long until I was in college.) “Do you think we’re driving too fast?” Lolo would ask. All I could ever answer was a frozen grin. He would laugh and step on the gas even harder, making me tighten my grip on the leather seat. There were no seatbelts back then. He would only slow down when we reached the city where the streets were crammed with people and jeeps.

After I got my shot, Lolo would stop by a suki for roasted peanuts. Sometimes we would halt at Lopue’s bookstore and he would buy me the latest Nancy Drew mystery and a Stabilo Boss highlighter. The highlighters only came in yellow and were a newfangled thing. I’d shade the o’s in my Nancy Drews as I read along and the sunshiny dots spangling the pages would show me how many pages were left to read. The Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries were all hard-bound, as most of my other books were, the majority of them belonging to my mother; the only paperbacks I had were Enid Blyton stories.

Back home after a trip Lolo Maeng would take a large strainer and shake out all the salt from the peanuts and refill his garapon (an empty old jar of Nescafe coffee) that he kept in a cupboard in the “clean kitchen” of the house. (Food was cooked by kusineras in an outbuilding which housed the “dirty” kitchen and maids’ quarters. It was also where the ironing was done, with a weighty cast-iron plancha filled with glowing charcoal that I was absolutely forbidden to touch.) I was the only person allowed to share Lolo’s peanuts, and that made me feel special and loved. Come to think of it, maybe Lola just didn’t like peanuts at all.

Cane field image here. Renault 14 here. Adobong mani here.

taste more:

my fiction: sire of sires

I was looking for old files in my computer when I came across this short story I wrote in 2008. I had forgotten all about it. But I remember the impetus for the narrative was my finding a sad note like this one in the story. I put myself in the place of the scribbler of the note, and imagined “What if…?”


It was 2008, and Danny was forty.

He felt old. It wasn’t that long ago when he was fifty pounds lighter with a full head of hair, jauntily entering the state university’s Malcolm Hall law school as a student. Where did time go?

Do the math, mocked Rina. How old will you be by the time your youngest child has finished his university degree? I loved you, Danny. I still do, a little. But you got yourself into this situation. Not me.

As much as his hand itched to slap her, he couldn’t do it, couldn’t even find the words to reply, because he knew she was right.

After she had gone back into the house and slammed the door in his face, and after he had driven back to his and Thess’s apartment where she, tired of waiting up for him, tired of putting up with his promises to leave his wife and excuses why he hadn’t, couldn’t yet, was asleep on one side of the bed, her bulk taking up fully two-thirds of the mattress, he went down to the living room and sat at his desk.

Drawing a piece of paper toward him with trembling hands, he made a list of his offspring. Lissette, born 13 November 1990; Migs, 25 October 1998, Marco, 29 October 2002. His youngest by Rina, Manolo, was born 8 March 2004, barely a month after Thess had given birth to their firstborn, John, on February 16. His and Thess’s youngest, Matthew, came along on 8 August 2005. Roselle’s baby was due in December.

In 2010, Lissette would be in her fourth year of college; Migs, in sixth grade, Marco in the second, John and Manolo both in Prep, Matthew in senior kindergarten.

In 2015, Lissette should be working, unless she took it in her head to attend law school; Migs would be in his first year at college, Marco in the first year of high school. John and Manolo, the almost-twins, in fifth grade, Matthew in the fourth.

By 2020, Lissette would be 30 years old, presumably working and with a family; Migs, at 22, should be working also. Marco would be 18 and in his second year of college, John and Manolo, both 16 and in their last year of high school, Matthew, at 15, in his junior year at high school.

By 2025, John and Manolo would presumably be in their last year of college, Matthew in his third. Roselle’s child would be 17, and perhaps newly-graduated from high school.

And Danny? He would be 58, with four children still in college. He would still have to be working and earning; there was no guarantee that Lissette, Migs, and Marco, his older children, would contribute towards their half-brothers’ education and upkeep. They would, of course, help out with their brother Manolo, but with John and Matthew? His child by Roselle? He didn’t think so. On the contrary, he felt that they would tell him in no uncertain terms to go to hell, dragging his own tail.

Buntot mo, hila mo.

The jokes comparing him to the prolific stallion Conquistador who sired countless colts and fillies weren’t funny anymore. No, the entire situation had lost its humor long ago.

He wondered where now were the drinking buddies with their ribald challenges of his manhood, where his employers, the racehorse owners with the expensive young women on their arms, where were they now that his life was falling apart?

Danny placed his scribbled list on the desk, weighed it down with an old horseshoe. His  neck hurt. The house oppressed him; it was as if he could hear Thess snoring, John and Matthew breathing heavily, even though they were yards away from him, in their own rooms. Oh, but he loved them so, and Roselle and their unborn child, and his older children, and yes, Rina too. He was never one to stop loving, he could only love more people, add to those already in his heart. Didn’t the old rascals say, “Magdagdag ka ng minamahal, huwag kang magbawas?”

He had always fancied himself a stallion like the late great Conquistador, and he was, with his six progeny, a filly and five colts by two broodmares, with a third dam in foal, and he was magnificent in his sexual prowess, a stud just like his father, they all said so.

His old man died at the track, watching races till his breath caught in his chest and his heart gave out and whose last sight was of horses running till his vision narrowed to a pinpoint and dissolved into darkness, at whose funeral two wives showed up, the first wife sharing bitter whispers with a woman whose jockey husband had left her for a slut: “They come back to us when they’re dead.”

But there was still one more way Danny could be like Conquistador.

He got out of the house, locked the door carefully behind him (it wouldn’t do at all to have an intruder or a burglar come in, an akyat-bahay who would not be content with stealing the plasma TV or the few pieces of jewelry he had managed to buy for Thess, but who would stab his family where they slept, turning them into another “Massacre In (insert name of city here)”, tabloid-fodder for the masses), got into the car, and drove to the racetrack.

The night guard was surprised to see Danny there so late, but waved him through and went back to sleep. Danny parked as close as he could to the first bend. Sitting in his car in the driver’s seat, the seat pushed back as far as it would go so the steering wheel wouldn’t dig into his gut, the moon shining into the car and filling it with silvery light, Danny unzipped the black leather case beside him on the passenger’s seat.

Inside was the bolt gun he used to put all those horses to rest.

It was heavy, the rubber grip rough in his hand, the barrel cool against his temple. He gazed at the track, it was aglow in moonlight, each particle of sand luminous, and over this brilliant surface he saw Conquistador’s legs pumping, galloping for the turn home.

Smiling, he pulled the trigger, and ran to meet his hero.

It was 2008, and Danny was forty, forever. ***

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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.

taste more:

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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