This, above all:

This, above all: To be God's best for The Coach and for Anna

Monday, May 29, 2006


Maybe I don’t pay The Coach enough compliments or maybe he feels guilty for only recently picking up on the chores he abandoned, or why else would he dance around me whenever I approach our bathroom, chortling, “Look how white the tiles are” or “Hmmm, ang bango ng banyo.”

I can’t blame him. I do my own share of fishing as well.

“Honey,” I asked one day when I felt bloated. “Am I beautiful?”

“Maganda ka naman,” he said. Stoutly.

“Naman?!?” I shrieked, piqued at the qualifier. “Why is there a naman?!?” The good man, never knowing what hit him, had to stop what he was doing to explain the ramifications of “naman.” Being Cebuana to the core, I didn’t believe him entirely. It would’ve been simpler if he had used the term “quite”—all I would’ve done was ask whether he was using the word in the American sense (somewhat) or the British sense (entirely).

But I never learn. Last night before we slept, I snuggled up to him and asked, “Honey, am I a good wife?”

“Of course you are, sweetie,” he said, readily but not too hastily or else I’d suspect it was a stock answer (I am impossible, am I not?).

“But I want to be a better wife,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, quick to the draw. “Then you wash the dishes.”

Remind me never to go fishing again.

Friday, May 26, 2006

True Colors

The tests we take online--to find out what kind of movie we are, what our name would be in French, what our eating style is--they are indubitably fun, fun, fun, but no different from horoscopes and I-ching, methinks. Many of us desire to be told who and what we are. But in many instances it’s not a genuine search for self: sometimes we cheat in those tests, perhaps make our answers more palatable and manipulate the results. We have in our minds an ideal of what we are and could be, and wish, almost with despair, that we are right.

Janet, your true color is Red!

Your color is red, the color of racy sportscars, blushing cheeks, and luscious roses. Red symbolizes passion, romance, and love. So, since you're ruled by red, you probably trust your feelings more than your brain and tend to act spontaneously. If you see something you want, you go for it without thinking twice — impulsive is your middle name. You don't wait around for people to make decisions, either; you dive right in. Quite the romantic, you pay close attention to your emotions. In fact, if your heart isn't in what you're doing, you won't be satisfied. Of course, even when you do pour all your energy into the projects you tackle, your impetuous nature means your passions can shift as frequently as the wind. That's why some reds have trouble with commitment. Our advice? Next time you're feeling fickle, think before you act, if possible. You might be surprised at the results. Overall, though, it's great to be red. No one lives life more completely than you do.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Making time

My friend, Winthrop, who doubles as our computer 911 guy, whooped when he learned I joined the blogosphere and wondered how much time I really have for blogging.

Very leeeeeettle time, but, yes, there is time. While defrosting the ref or waiting for the manang to pick up our laundry, and at the right moment when I am about to go berserk computing the budget or editing another—sigh—constipated magazine article, then it is time to blog or trawl the blogs. Calms the nerves. (Or I can just exercise, but, heck, why stand up? As the fantasonic Freddie Mercury sang, “Fat-bottomed girls, you make the rockin’ world go round”—by which definition, oh yes, I do rock!)

Which begs the question: if I have time to blog, then surely I have time to write fiction? Since 2003 I have written only one and a half stories. The half-story is promising, but only as an essay, while the lone story needs, oh, about 78 million revisions before it gains shape.

I have every other writer’s usual excuses for the lame output, the most popular being, “I don’t have the time.”

Which, as the other every other writer knows, is a lot of hoohah. There is always time. Even I, who straddle work and housework (The Coach and I are a tad allergic to having house help), have the time.

So here I go. I will find time to write. Starting today. I’m making the third of the 78 million revisions that the lone story needs and constructing the other half of the half-story. Before moving on to writing on an area I should probably mine: the world of lawyers.

Three people helped me in recents days to wake up from my stupor: one of them does not know me, the other knows me only in cyberspace, and the third I haven’t seen since 1983—all of them unaware of their impact.

There is Silliman University professor Ian Rosales Casocot, who makes no excuses, thankfully, or otherwise we wouldn’t have his beautiful Old Movies and The Hero of Snore Tango, as well as his portal to Philippine literature, which brings the writing community together. And there’s my high school classmate Giselle Doherty, more than 7,000 miles away in California, whose comment to one of my posts reminded me to properly steward my writing. And there is Dean Francis Alfar, who manages the “tension between words and work.” Like Dean, I will choose my attitude.

Thank you, guys. You rock!

Friday, May 19, 2006

From our shelf: Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman

I snatched Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan from the Booksale bin (P70.00) because of its title—as did its one million other readers, I suspect. I settled comfortably on my side of the bed and waited until The Coach fell asleep; it didn’t seem like good manners to brandish such a title in his face as his last memory for the day.

About six hours later, half of me was cheering on Rose—the book’s middle-aged heroine who lost her husband, job, and home to her own young, beautiful assistant—and the other half was sheepish because I had just finished a truly wonderful book by Paula Fox, and I felt I betrayed Fox somewhat by taking pleasure in what had been made into a TV movie, starring Christine Lahti.

Revenge will never be considered highbrow lit, and a few of its de rigueur confrontations with the husband and the other woman made me squirm: oh please, please don’t go melodramatic, and they almost did, teetering dangerously, dangerously so.

But humor abounds, even in the way Rose committed to break down:

If I was going to suffer—that is, more than I was at the moment, and there was no doubt that I would—I might as well do it properly and give myself up to grand and august pain.

Buchan writes intelligently, and by that I mean her writing can be insightful and, while uncertain and a tad overdone in some portions, her language can be beautiful.

Because I am on my way to being middle-aged, I needed to see Rose through her bewilderment and bawling, and on to her choice to live. Rose, who considered herself “the grit in the oyster,” read in her body the life she led:

What did I expect to see? The gleaming bronze of a fountain nymph, whose lines flowed untouched and unmarked? My body had swelled in gestation. It had been stretched, ripped, sewn up. It had carried children, cradled them and, when the time had come, pushed them gently away. It had learned to be endlessly busy, to snatch at repose, to guard its silences in the hot, crowded demands of the family. How could all this activity not be written into the flesh?

Yup, none of that You complete me hoohah. Some of Revenge’s other lines I like…

Poetry hovered on the weightless and was decorated with wide white margins.
As an organizational principle, love has flaws.
Supposedly the past is a foreign country of which we should beware. That was not true: it was oneself that was the foreign country, the unexplored, possibly dangerous side.
Life, wrote Virginia Woolf, was a luminous halo, a semitransparent envelope. Oh no, it was not. Not for some. Some of us lived in a plain brown envelope.

…as well as an old Spanish proverb for a great epigraph: Living well is the best revenge.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Why I am not a poet

Because I stink at it, too.

I stink even at reading poetry. At a Baguio workshop in 2003, panelist/poet J. Neil Garcia (whom I adore just for being Neil), asked me to share what I thought of wunderkind Gelo Suarez's love poem. I looked at the lines on the page, black and white, and launched into a desperate exegesis about the beauty of love.

Neil, gracious as ever, peered at me and said quietly, “You do know this talks about incest, don't you?”

Of course I didn't.

Now, imagine my agony when I tried to combine children's writing and poetry.

I don’t know how well I relate to the young ones. If a child, for instance, were to ask me why the sky is blue, I would answer, “Because it does not look good in red.”

The Coach and I disallowed kids from our wedding, even my beloved nephews and nieces (I have fourteen who deplete my savings every time I go home to Cebu, plus two grandnieces, with another one on the way). No flower girls or ring bearers, no little feet trampling on my veil, no tugging at itchy hemlines.

In the first few years of our marriage, The Coach and I were intolerant of children's excesses. In one trip to Boracay, there was this rambunctious little imp who ran around our smallish banca, squealing and squalling, pitching all of us to and fro. Everyone and his brother was annoyed, but looked the other way. When the little volcano next passed us, The Coach, exasperated, stuck his knee forward and the tyke-tyrant tripped, then caught his footing, and, perhaps scared of his near-tumble, sniffed and ran to his mother, where he stayed quiet the rest of the journey. I could barely restrain a yippee.

(Ahem. Please note the use of the past, past tense. The Coach and I have since matured. Heh.)

I figured children needed a hero so my kiddie poetry often talked about someone saving another, prompting my then classmate and writer extraordinaire Migs Villanueva to say, "May messianic tendencies ka pala, Janet." Eeeps. Not. Just a limited mind, that’s all.

I started with a great title to the, uhm, collection: The Not-So-Ordinary Days of Jamie, but teetered dangerously from thereon. The collection traveled to the land under the stairs (my favorite hidey-hole when I was five), cooked up an alphabet soup that form its letters to warn children of danger, helped a cloud that lost its way, and revealed the magic of the forty winks.

They sound good in theory, perhaps, but the execution was less than desirable. I was hobbled by my myopia that children’s poetry should rhyme. I thought too much like an adult; my language was geared for adult readers. I can almost forgive my teacher for giving me a 2.0 in children's writing class—a failing grade, if you should know. Almost. But not yet.

Here are two of those poems that suck the least. You can bet that when the Lord finds it right to grant us the twins The Coach desires, I will definitely sic these poems on the poor kids. Heh.

Well, at least I know how to rhyme.

The Blues

When Jamie woke up one bright sunny morning
She saw the world in blue, all colors transforming.
The trees weren’t green,
They were clearly cerulean.
The flowers changed dresses—of that she was sure
Gone the rainbow tresses; they were entirely azure!

“Mom!” cried Jamie, “there’s been a big whammy!
All that I see is a completely blue scenery!”
Mom was so puzzled; she could barely understand it.
So they rushed to Doc Snorton for some handy little fix-it.

Poor Doc Snorton, he didn’t know what to do.
He poked her and checked her ‘til he almost turned blue.
“Ahem,” he’d say when there was nothing else to say.
“I see,” he’d say when there was nothing else to see.

“My dear,” he sighed finally, “this is all a mystery.
How you lost the other colors is really beyond me.”
“Oh no,” Mom said, “what are we to do?
Blue is your favorite but you can’t dump any other hue.”

“That’s it!” yelled Jamie, “that’s exactly what I did!
I adored blue above all, other colors I forbid.
I forgot that all colors make up a pretty rainbow
And only one-seventh is made up of indigo.”

“But how,” Doc asked, “can I put right your eyesight?
I have no treatment or remedy; we have only your insight.”
“I don’t know,” said Jamie, “but I do hope and pray
That my discovery will bring back other colors to stay.”

When Jamie awoke the next sunny morning
Gone were the blues, all the colors returning.
The trees became green
No longer cerulean.

“Hurray!” she rejoiced, “What a resounding relief!
I see red, I see yellow, and green on a leaf!
How wonderful to know that my favorite blue
Only looks better when paired with some other hue.”

The Angry Sink

Jamie was washing some dishes one evening
When a noise crashed into her pleasant daydreaming.
Growwwl, rowwwl, browwwl—went the terrible noise.
Shlurrrp, flurrrrp, blurrrrp—‘twas like no other voice.

“My goodness,” jumped Jamie, “what on earth could that be?
There’s nobody else in the kitchen but me.”
Brreee, greeee, dreeee—it went on and on.
Gurggle, murggle, plurggle—so forth and so on.

Poor Jamie stood shaking, so frightened was she
Of this roaring deep noise from where, she couldn¹t see.
Then all of a sudden, she saw the sink spouting
Some eggshells and clamshells, all stinking and rotting.

“Hogwash and balderdash,” the sink reared up and roared.
“How could I work in peace with all the rubbish you poured?
Hokum and bunkum, what a terrible mess!
The way you wash your dishes makes me really distressed!”

“I’m sorry,” quaked Jamie, “I didn’t realize
That my washing the dishes was the cause of your cries.
But, please, Sir Sink, you must tell me more.
How could I hurt you with an innocent chore?”

“Twaddle, dilly-daddle,” the sink sputtered and stuttered.
“The scraps you poured in me left me littered and cluttered.
Higgledy-piggledy, bits of broccoli and baloney
Are choking my windpipe, what a great big malarkey!”

“I’ll remove all that garbage,” offered Jamie to the sink.
“If you’ll give me a chance, I could be more than you think.
I promise never ever to burden you with garbage.
Ewww, all this rubbish I don’t ever want to rummage!”

So Jamie from then on first scraped away the scraps
To avoid the barrage of an angry sink’s claptraps.
And the sink? He was happy, so peaceful was his swishing
Saving our Jamie from an outburst so alarming.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Class Struggle 101

This is my third summer teaching Business Writing and Presentation to incoming management seniors at a nearby university. I love teaching, except the part where I have to grade papers: I discovered that if I leave the papers stacked on top of each other, they breed overnight.

The Coach sometimes yields to my insistence that he help me check papers. But you cannot get the imp out of The Coach. In one exam, I asked my students to define the word stoke. One guy rather desperately, answered: Past tense of stick, he he he. Not to be outdone, The Coach wrote back in glorious red ink: You're wrong! He he he.

There are times when I get thoroughly stumped: what to do, for instance, when your student defines alternate as something like one, it's blue, two, it's white; three, it's blue, four, it's white; next, it's blue, then it's white--about six pairs of blue and white. The Coach, champion of the oppressed, pleaded on the boy's behalf, "Sige na, give him the point. He knows the answer naman."

One of my students this summer is wonderfully creative. The topic this afternoon was conciseness in writing. I encouraged them to omit needless words and to use verbs instead of nouns or adjectives for crisper, snappier language. How, for instance, can they shorten the phrase expressing yourself well by means of the written word?

"What's the one-word equivalent?" I asked them. "I'm looking for a verb."

"Expressing!" a guy in the middle row said.

I was actually looking for the verb writing. "Okay," I said. "But what's even shorter than that?"

"Express!" another student said.

"Shorter," I said.


"One word, one verb that's shorter?" I prompted. "Anyone?"

And someone from the back answered, her voice clear but trailing towards the end. "Ex?" she said.

Siyanga naman.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


Sometime in March 2004, in the heat of the presidential elections, I interviewed Chiz Escudero, then spokesperson for candidate Fernando Poe Jr. While we talked over early breakfast at the Manila Peninsula, several thought balloons popped up in my mind, thoughts I could not include in my article. These are some of those thought balloons.

It’s a pity that those who woo us to hire them as public servants aren’t as public as they should be. I had long been anticipating my interview with FPJ, struggling through the maze of kingmakers and court jesters that form Da King’s cordon sanitaire, careful to protect him from himself.

But the man who sits before me, who begs for a minute to finish his phone interview with DZMM, speaks too fast and confidently into his mobile phone, far from the abbreviated and tentative rejoinders I was prepared for.

This morning I am asked to look beyond the youthful dynamism of Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero and pretend that he, as the newly designated official spokesperson, is Da King.

I am not supposed to mind the switch. After all, the congressman extended his hand first and introduced himself by his nickname. I am to be charmed by this. For this breakfast interview, I am Janet and he is Chiz. I think maybe I should have good reason to have a semi-crush on this man, never mind that The Coach and I think Chiz looks like a munggo with ears.

While he shoots rapid-fire reasons for FPJ’s mini-scuffle with a reporter late yesterday, Chiz waves at the waitress to give us a menu. Is he naturally solicitous? Or is this part of his job description? FPJ or the powers behind him choose Da King’s talking head well. Chiz makes me feel almost considerate to FPJ for in effect standing me up—not too bad considering that I still carry in my head Fr. Robert Reyes’s jab against FPJ. Sitting in his Project 4 office with his knapsack still strapped to his back, the priest who runs to steer attention to the country’s burning issues said, “It’s very clear: FPJ is not a bridge to the future. He is a bridge to Erap, who is a bridge to the Marcoses.”

Chiz finishes his phone interview on a high note. His account of how FPJ did not really swing his elbow against the journalist but was merely warding off the pressure of the teeming masses may not have justified FPJ’s much-maligned temper, but it sure did mollify the radio commentators.

Chiz clasps his hands together and smiles, “So how should we do this?”

I smile back. “I ask you questions, and you answer them.”

He laughs. We are off to a good start, especially since my breakfast bacon is crisp and the hot chocolate is like pure cacao concentrate. I hope he won’t mind my first question.

“How would FPJ protect himself from being manipulated by his advisers?” I ask.

And he rattles off, his mind moving faster than his mouth: “One advantage FPJ has is his popularity. He doesn’t need that much resources to win. People flock to him in droves just to hear him speak. That’s a good start. He will not be manipulated later on by vested interests since his winnability is not dependent upon money that a person or business unit will give him but rather on the outpouring of support from the people.”

My editor’s mind paused when he said “winnability,” but I will forgive him since he speaks for FPJ. And because I myself like to forge non-words like “lawyering” and “tanggalable.”

I clear my throat. The Honorable Chiz did not really answer my question. “Well, yes, that is true,” I say. “But many are worried about the people egging FPJ to run, the kingmakers who might take advantage of FPJ’s inexperience in government.”

“That question should also be asked of other candidates,” he shoots back. “All other candidates have kingmakers and backers behind him. For instance, GMA: who is behind her? Why is nobody asking that question? Or is the answer to that already too obvious? The same is true for presidential candidates Ping Lacson and Raul Roco. Who is spending for their campaigns?”

Feint, sidestep, and draw. This man sure knows how not to answer a question. Pretty much like the man he represents. When asked for his qualifications, Da King mentioned his 40 years in showbusiness: “Karanasan ko.” Pause. “My forty years bilang isang artista, kung saan-saan po ako nakarating—sa gubat, bundok at dagat.” Reacting to claims that he had no experience, FPJ said, “Wala daw akong experience. Pero ginampanan ko ang mga papel bilang Muslim, military officer, pulis, jeepney driver, taxi driver, kutsero. At nang minsan ginampanan ko po ang pari.”

How can I press my point further? Chiz is determined not to answer my question. His eyes retain the same level of stoic niceness as when he offered me coffee, unchanging even as he drags on his cigarette or as he launches into animated speech.

“Some candidates have lamented FPJ’s deficiencies in formal education. How will he work and decide on, say, trade agreements?” I ask.

His eyes stretch. What an amazing trick: to stretch the eyes like he is smiling, when he actually is not. “Do you think it’s GMA who’s actually going through the nitty-gritty of contracts or trade agreements?” he confronts me. “If at all Roco will become president, will he actually be going through the details of each transaction? No. One thing we have to rely on, one thing we have to accept, is to trust our civil servants and those in government that they will perform their job regardless of who is the sitting president. That lack of trust also probably explains the utter absence of continuity with respect to our government. People question FPJ’s lack of government experience, but it also means that he has not been tainted by politics. He has not been consumed by the system. There lies our hope for the country and the government.”

I choose to think that Chiz, armed with a law degree from the University of the Philippines, knows exactly what I was driving at, and knows exactly why he frantically needs to persuade me that political naiveté leads to “our hope for the country and the government.”

Sigh… This Artful Dodger has an entire arsenal of verbal maneuvers and sound bites for every question.

So I am not surprised that he can still deify Da King’s failure to list in his Certificate of Candidacy his illegitimate offspring, saying that FPJ’s readiness to admit his extramarital liaisons (after somebody else made the discovery, of course) underscores his honesty and transparency. “FPJ has talked to Ms. Roces about this years ago. That speaks of the character of the person: he’s not afraid of telling the truth, unlike others.”

I scratch my head. Does Chiz mean others like, say, himself?

Anyhow, Chiz continues, “That is another factor to consider. When you’re president, you will stand as father of the nation, and the lines of communication have to be open between the father and his children.” I wince, not only because I cannot imagine FPJ as the father of the nation, but also because there are, particularly now, definitely no lines of communication between me and the Honorable Chiz, spokesperson of FPJ, the father of the nation.

And when I ask him which presidential candidate FPJ would vote for should he withdraw from the presidential race, Chiz threw me a bone: “That’s a very good question.” Translation: I can answer that, without hedging, quibbling or dithering.

He smiles, and it almost reaches his eyes. “If you look at the platforms, there are similarities between him and Bro. Eddie Villanueva, about where they’re coming from. They both seek to inspire new hope in our people. They do not come from politics and have no bad record of unbroken promises. People can hold them to their word.”

Bravo. While Chiz did not actually talk of platforms but personalities, he has chosen the safest presidential bet, one in whose perceived morality and integrity FPJ can take refuge, particularly since Villanueva lags far behind FPJ in the polls. Contrast this with GMA’s curt email reply to the same question: “But I am running.” Or Lacson’s pointed comeback: “I will not vote for GMA.” Or Roco’s obsequiousness: “I’m sorry but I don’t engage in negative thinking. I learned in Journalism 101 not to engage in speculative thinking.” Or Villanueva’s caution: “I will have to carefully study their qualifications.”

But Chiz’s—and hence FPJ’s—crowning comeback is still to come. When I ask if FPJ had done any social or charitable work, he replies: “Only in his private capacity. He has chosen, and this is known in the movie industry, for his charitable acts to be kept private for the simple reason that as stated in the Good Book,”—and he grandly gestures to the Bible peeking through my backpack, caught up in his religiosity—“once a charitable act has been made public, then such charitable act is considered paid for and will no longer receive a grace. That’s why he’s admonished every person he helped to keep the kind act to themselves.” Translation: Whether or not FPJ did any charitable work, you have no means of verifying.


The waitress arrives with more coffee. That is all he takes with his cigarettes. “You are going to die early,” I say, glancing at his breakfast. Then I compose my face into a smile, so he will not think I made a threat.

“I know,” he says. He looks at his watch, and asks for my leave to attend another meeting. He stands, courtly: “I’ll just go to the restroom. Please wait for me. Let’s go out together.” Translation: If I am seen leaving with you and if I grace you with my presence, will you be nice when you write your article about me?

I motion for the waitress to bring the bill, but she politely says that “the congressman has paid for it.” Set, game, and match. There goes my budding journalistic integrity.

I look at the remains of my scrambled eggs hardening in the bacon fat, all the calories trapped in the cholesterol, and I think maybe I should join Fr. Robert in his next protest run.

Friday, May 05, 2006

On the way to the Palancas

If I had a story worth the Palancas (and, sadly, I don't), this is the conversation I imagine I'd have with the other hopefuls once I get to its Makati office, right before midnight of April 30, of course--procrastinators rock!!

ME: Who else do you think is joining the Palancas?

KIBITZER: I hear Chari Lucero submitted an entry.

ME: Ooookaaay. That means the most I can hope for is second place.

KIBITZER: Migs Villanueva also joined, they say.

ME: [sighs] Third place, then.

KIBITZER: Ian Casocot, too...

ME: [gets desperate] Maybe tie for third place?

KIBITZER: well as Luis Katigbak, Faye Ilogon and Yvette Tan.

ME: [stuffs entry into bag] Next year na lang.