This, above all:

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

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Sleepy little town—that’s how a DavaoeƱo describes Panabo. If you consider the staggering kindness of strangers (they carry your bag, ply you with food, offer their homes), how most businesses revolve around the marketplace, and how a hefty pork barbecue costs only P10, then perhaps, yes, Panabo is one sleepy little town, never mind its designation as a city of Davao del Norte.

Its noise, however, is another matter.

Here on my side of Panabo, at the Women’s Resource Center, I am in the middle of the market square. While many tricycles have abandoned the streets and most stalls have put up their boards, a videoke, a jukebox, and a set of oversized speakers on a pedicab all fight for airspace with the Bingo game set up in the quadrangle.

The videoke singer relentlessly scrambles after the lyrics of If You Tell Me You Love Me, but not with My Way; he knows his way around that tune. (Yeah, a videoke isn’t a videoke without the obligatory My Way). The pedicab speakers provide the bass: you cannot hear much else beyond it. And the jukebox, well, there must be a surfeit of coins in Panabo; the poor machine has no rest.

Yet nothing beats the Bingo man.

To fill up the wide-open space, the Bingo man doesn’t just call out the numbers. He cups the microphone with both hands—lest some of his words escape further amplification—and singsongs into it, stringing the syllables in a lilting chain, like the ShoeMart salesladies of yore: GEE FORty-seven-forty-seven-forty-seven-forty-seven-forty-seven (pause, wheeze), GEE forty-SEven-forty-seven-forty-seven-forty-seven (pause, wheeze), and then a final triumphant GEE FORty-SEHHHven! He pronounces G the Cebuano way: DJEE. As he jiggles the plastic genie bottle of tiles, he hoists it over his head and brings it down roundhouse in a wide turn—yet another art form—and he cracks jokes, makes some announcements, calls out to passersby. Still in the same singsong.

I am glad for the clamor. Makes me feel safe. In this trip to Panabo for a CIDA book project, I am alone in a nursery of a daycare facility. A lone metal bed has turned it into my makeshift sleeping quarters. I am surrounded by gargantuan comic-book and fairytale characters painted on the walls: Garfield (too orange), Snoopy (pretty good), and Tweety Bird (with a disproportionate, stretched torso).

The surrounding noise stops me from gazing too often at this creepy rendition of Snow White near the foot of my bed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


If you take an A320 plane, say, bound for Davao like I did yesterday, and you ask the Cebu Pacific guy behind the desk to give you a window seat—so you can get a better view of this fair city particularly if, like me, this is only your second visit there since 1991—and he assigns you to Seat 26F much too cheerfully, beware.

Not only is Seat 26F the last of the tail end, it also has no windows.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I want. I need!

Night person that I am, mornings can be excruciating, especially when my doctors have not allowed any coffee in my system since October 2003 (alas, I can no longer remember how my Americanos taste).

These babies from Bim Bam Banana are what I need.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Smother is mother with an attitude

My mother—bless her—thinks that I, at 40, am still a baby who needs pampering. (I am.) She thinks I am too thin (I wish), and has someone buy me beef rice from Dimsum Break for early afternoon merienda: beef, peas and shrimp piled over rice and drowned in MSG-rich sauce. "Eat, eat," she urges, and waits as I chew. She prepares for my return to Cebu the only way she knows how: she feeds me.

One of the characters in a story I have yet to rework carries after my mother. Perhaps it is true, what they say, that all fiction is in some ways autobiographical:

"Mama at seventy-eight years has survived a war, eloping at eighteen, working through three miscarriages, selling tocino on the side to raise tuition for seven children, a stroke, a heart attack, kidney stones, diabetes, a recidivist philandering husband. From all these she was shielded by her crusade that nothing bad—nothing—will happen to her brood. She believes in the Family; there is little redemption outside it. The world can change governments, another Mexican soap opera would invade television, roads are given new names, but my mother would not know or care. She has the public schoolteacher’s simple convictions that are renewed every time she feeds us."

from Home, a work in progress

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pls! Flash the bowl after using*

Ahh, Cebu.


Where I can sleep for more than ten hours without a headache.

Where all bets are off when it comes to all things salty or fatty: danggit, real chicharon attached to tambok, and lechon that doesn't rely on Mang Tomas for flavor.

Where I don't have to rein in my accent, and I can speak BisDak: forcefully, loudly, in truncated syllables and hardened vowels.

Where our version of learning is to poke fun at our own grammatical errors.

* Comment posted by jued keigh at
** Photo by jorg3, posted at

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Go, Blakey!

With two more rounds of singing to go, I'm putting all my eggs in the Blake basket. This boy is an artist and a songwriter. He understands music and its nuances. He can fill a stadium electric. It's about time American Idol puts in a performer, one who fearlessly redesigns his songs and not just one who'd belt them out—those are a dime a dozen. Let's find those who'd leave a legacy of music, not just singing.

And such a gentleman. Given the chance to sing last, decidedly a better slot, he opts to let Jordin choose.

Even if he doesn't win, he'd have a good career.*

Team Villa is divided on the issue; The Coach leaves the room when Blake sings. He's a Melinda Doolittle fan, like I am. I tell him mixing is an art, and so is beatboxing. (And then he turns on the other TV.)

*Postscript: Yeah, give the boy a ballad he can't sing, and let Jordin, who sang nothing but, run away with tears at the end. Don't get me wrong: I do like Jordin and she's fantastic, but I'm up to here (see me slash my neck) with mere singers.

Postscript ad nauseam: Oh man, that Chris Daughtry should win tonight, hands down. Love him.

Storm's a-brewin'

Season 70 of the UAAP is yet to come, and already the drama is grinding, grinding, grinding. Much of the fireworks—that we're still hoping won't go off—will center around a ruling issued today by the governing body. A quick powwow with my beloved Coach Joe and The Coach a while ago did nothing to pacify me. Not that The Coach wants me calm: He knows I am at my most percipient and formidable in a fight.

Nobody messes with my boys. Nobody.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Pure, unadulterated Cebuano"

It hurts to laugh.

While most of my stitches are healing well, the hole on my right, through which a pipe drained blood and liquid for four days, still gapes and throbs. When I sneeze I anchor my tummy in with my hands, afraid that the force might hurl my insides through the gauze. Rising in the morning is a major production: I slowly maneuver to my left, slip an elbow underneath, secure my right palm on the bed, and lift myself up by degrees. It does not help that The Coach keeps our bedroom Siberia-cold (I have to burrow under three covers!); my joints are all stiff, and much of my body refuses to wake.


I cannot help but check out Himantayon for my regular fix of laugh-out-loud Cebuano humor. The term himantayon means—geez, now how on earth do I translate that? (Me, with my clumsy Tagalog.) A pakialamero is more of a meddler and a busybody. A himantayon—from the word bantay—is more circumspect and subtle in his or her snooping, though no less heedful or alert or even catty, though never malevolent. A glamorous gossip, how 'bout that?

(Help, I am floundering. It's like explaining the mechanics of labyog and kumbayot.)

Anyway, this site, which I discovered through fellow Cebuano Isolde Amante's*, celebrates all things BisDak—that's Bisayang Dako or "Big Bisaya," literally, though that translation fails at capturing the self-jest that can be at times droll or comical or tongue-in-cheek or farcical or downright clownish.

I love it. It's home. And I'll read it if it kills me.

* If you crave good fiction, check out Isolde's Dance, deservedly a winner at the 2000 Palancas.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Round Tuit

One can never have too much rest. Or so I thought. After having been sidelined for more than five months, I'm unusually looking forward to work, family duties, and house chores, even. Yessir, hell has officially frozen over.

June is the magic month to return to the trenches: set up a piggy bank, work out at least 40 hours in 90 days, finish a story. I borrowed tickers from to monitor my progress.

For the procrastinator in me I simplified my desktop and got a Round Tuit.

Remember all the things we were supposed to do when we got around to it? Well, there ya go: I finally got a round tuit. Here are more round tuits from other sites.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lights out

Sunset at 6:05 PM

The art of solitude

The world operates on noise. Too many of us who find some alone time keep the TV or music playing to ward off the quiet. What one perceives as silence could be an acquired deafness.

It is increasingly difficult to imagine life without our handhelds and entertainment equipment. We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves without computers, TV, books or cell phones. There is rarely space reserved for elegant thought. I see so many in a commute or in a line send text messages or strap on iPods rather than pause for contemplation.

I faced this point squarely when typhoon Reming in October 2000 forced me to confront a brownout alone in the city. A few months prior, I had scheduled some alone-time in Sagada and Banaue, free from pagers, phones and the Internet. The escape didn’t happen, regrettably, but the point is I thought I was prepared for isolation.

I wasn't. The brownout bore down with a darkness broken only by distant emergency lights. No activity or panorama to deflect my solitude. It was unnerving. I was overwhelmed by my bare thoughts, and frantic for cable television or a book.

I did not know when it was when I was first sucked into a treadmill of activity. I just knew I had to simplify my life.

To enjoy a quiet time with myself, no typing into a keyboard, no writing, no reading.

To find pieces of myself in memorabilia and old photos, and laugh at the cuts and scrapes of my childhood.

To think about where I came from, the distance I’ve covered, and the path I will take.

To be mindful of my breathing, just feel the air in and out.

I remind myself of this now because after a forced five-month rest, I can feel the pull back into the busyness vortex, unable to write yesterday, for instance, without listening to music or to the television. A few weeks ago my friend Art asked me how long it has been since my last dive. Blank. I couldn’t remember. “Whoa,” he said. “Now I know you are busy.”

Germaine had been more direct last year. “You, my friend,” she announced, “are a workaholic.”

“No, I’m not,” I said. “I just have too much work.”

Perhaps I should start listening to myself.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Perfect love

Off to the hospital in a few hours for tests to prep me for Friday's surgery, this time to have four holes bored into me in a laparoscopic cholicystectomy—terribly expensive medico-babble to remove my ailing gall bladder.

Dreading yet another round of needles and stitches, fasting, and sleep deprivation (the nurses' specialty, oh how they excel at it). It's the second in this year's medical drama, and, please God, the last.

The Coach has of late been working 18-hour days, juggling his job and my hospital preps and funding, but—bless him—he still takes time to soothe my fears. When we got wind this morning of the staggering costs that would again dent our budget, he was, in his words, "not worried, but..." And he paused, the mobile phone connection clear enough to relay his sigh, "...I am shaken." Then he gathered himself, becoming the tender warrior that he is, and said, "This is not a problem, Jan. As long as we're together, we're okay."

He sleeps now, bone-tired, and perhaps will only be a bit refreshed when he rises in just a few hours to put in some work before he brings me to the hospital.

Poor dear. How can I tell him I am not prepared for tomorrow when he himself has gone through as much emotional turmoil as I have? He will quote to me one of his favorite psalms, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." He will remind me of the Lord's faithfulness in all the good and bad years we've been together—twenty-one!—and tick off the many things we are grateful for, and then he will hug me, make me laugh and think of all the junk food and trans fats I can finally have in my post-op diet.

Tonight I choose to meditate on Paul's words to young Timothy, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." The argument is easy to follow: The Lord loves me more than I can ever comprehend, He who knitted me carefully in my mother's womb; His Will for me is perfect, acceptable and pleasing; He is mighty to save; how He desires me to fare on Friday is all part of His purpose for me. There is no room for fear for perfect love—His, and what He shows through The Coach—casts out fear.

Thank you, Coach, for being the Lord's strongest tangible reminder of His love.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Moon and Stars

Here in Manila I have an inordinate interest in the moon. I take hundreds of photos. A few days ago I took one of the moon lingering in the sky after daybreak. Tonight's Jeopardy! tells me this is called selenodolatry: moon worship.

But that's just because only a few stars can penetrate the smog. I love stars more. Sometimes the best part of our dive trips is the time we spend on the sand gazing up the night sky: with stars upon stars it feels like all 6,000 visible stars are on our side of the world. In Apo Island, the marine reserve off Dumaguete, the stars leap out of the sky when the island plunges into darkness after the power generators switch off around 10. Even the fireflies cannot compete. One night we counted 24 falling stars.

Naming the Stars
Joyce Sutphen

This present tragedy will eventually
turn into myth, and in the mist
of that later telling the bell tolling
now will be a symbol, or, at least,
a sign of something long since lost.

This will be another one of those
loose changes, the rearrangement of
hearts, just parts of old lives
patched together, gathered into
a dim constellation, small consolation.

Look, we will say, you can almost see
the outline there: her fingertips
touching his, the faint fusion
of two bodies breaking into light.


I think he's such a cutie.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Play by Play

The Coach is child-mischievous. In church today, while everybody else applauded an all-male ensemble who had sang a cappella In That Great Getting Up Morning—in a delightful fusion of barbershop music and black gospel—The Coach leaned over and whispered, “I’m going to clap like Paula Abdul.” And he bent his hands back, fingers splayed, and slapped his palms together—Paula Abdul style.

That kind of playfulness serves him well on radio. For some time now The Coach moonlights as commentator at Radyo PBA (918 on the AM frequency).

Radio suits him more. When he was commentating on TV for the Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA), he had to mind too many things: wear a tie, follow the camera, and mind his facial expressions. Radio, however, allows him to banter about, say, the players’ hair, or poke fun even at himself. “Whew!” he whistled, when Olsen Racela sank in a shot after The Coach had pronounced Olsen one of the league’s best free-throw players. “Buti na lang. Otherwise, mawawalan ako ng credibility.”

In another game, after The Coach had kept insisting the Welcoat players should pass the ball to Alex Compton, Alex delivered the fifth of his seven 3-point shots that game, and The Coach cheered, “Naku, gumwapo ako dun ah.”

Of the few games I've listened in on, my favorite would be the Air 21-Welcoat game last April. Air 21 was miles ahead in scoring, and Welcoat struggled to make a shot, as if—according to The Coach—there was a wall blocking their shots. “Eh, ano pang dapat gawin ng Welcoat kung may wall, eh 'di pinturahan,” he joshed.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Absolutely brilliant.

Enter a word in Visuwords, an online graphical dictionary, and words that relate to your entry just pop, spring, ricochet and expand into a color-coordinated web of synonyms, opposites, hypernyms, and derivations.

When the words settle down into a fully-fleshed network, they gently throb and breathe, like the living things that they are. Such a delight.

And the dictionary is free.

(Discovered from "Write now is good.")

Friday, May 04, 2007


In his Penman column for April 2, 2007, Butch Dalisay wrote that he and his colleagues—Charlson Ong, Jimmy Abad, Jing Hidalgo, and Ricky de Ungria—were, in the early years of their writing, “driven and fascinated by writing, not by being or becoming writers.”

I remember my “anxieties and apprehensions” (my professor’s words) when I started out, more of which centered on being a writer than by writing, though there was that, too. Perhaps it was because I came from a profession that overly—and mistakenly—valued titles. Except for SyCip Salazar law office, the first law firm I joined, there was never any Miss or Mister among us: it was the ATTY. that defined us. My classmates said that one earns one letter for every year in law school, from the A to the Y, and then get the period when he or she passes the Bar.

A few years ago I wrote this in my journal. I feel a certain sadness when I read this, even as I have gone past this spell:

I need to own to being a writer—a term I wear like clothes that are too snug on me. What do you do, people ask, and I say, Well, and I pause, Well, I am a writer. I shrug and tug my shoulders to bridge the moment.

It does not help that my mother and father—both of whom slaved to see me get my letters A to Y—think that writing is not a real job. You write when you’re happy or sad. You do not write to live.

I carry the term with some deprecation, like I should issue an apology—Yes, ma’am, I am trying to write and maybe someday I will create something good. And perhaps continue to create something good.

I know I can write—people tell me so, and there are instances in my scribbling when I know I have written something well, and I rejoice in the wordplay—but I am not certain I deserve to be called a writer. I write, perhaps, but I am not a writer.

Alice Munro’s character in The Office has her own version of writerly disquiet:

The solution to my life occurred to me one evening while I was ironing a shirt. It was simple but audacious. I went into the living room where my husband was watching television and I said, “I think I ought to have an office.”

It sounded fantastic, even to me. What do I want an office for? I have a house; it is pleasant and roomy and has a view of the sea; it provides appropriate places for eating and sleeping, and having baths and conversations with one's friends. Also I have a garden; there is no lack of space.

No. But here comes the disclosure which is not easy for me: I am a writer. That does not sound right. Too presumptuous; phony, or at least unconvincing. Try again. I write. Is that better? I try to write. That makes it worse. Hypocritical humility. Well then?

It doesn’t matter. However I put it, the words create their space of silence, the delicate moment of exposure. But people are kind, the silence is quickly absorbed by the solicitude of friendly voices, crying variously, how wonderful, and good for you, and well, that is intriguing. And what do you write, they inquire with spirit. Fiction, I reply, bearing my humiliation by this time with ease, even a suggestion of flippancy, which was not always mine, and again, again, the perceptible circles of dismay are smoothed out by such ready and tactful voices—which have however exhausted their stock of consolatory phrases, and can say only, “Ah!”

So this is what I want an office for (I said to my husband): to write in. I was at once aware that it sounded like a finicky requirement, a piece of rare self-indulgence. To write, as everyone knows, you need a typewriter, or at least a pencil, some paper, a table and chair; I have all these things in a corner of my bedroom. But now I want an office as well.

And I was not even sure that I was going to write in it, if we come down to that. Maybe I would sit and stare at the wall; even that prospect was not unpleasant to me. It was really the sound of the word “office” that I liked, its sound of dignity and peace. And purposefulness and importance. But I did not care to mention to this to my husband, so I launched instead into a high-flown explanation which went, as I remember, like this:

A house is all right for a man to work in. He brings his work into the house, a place is cleared for it; the house rearranges itself as best it can around him. Everybody recognizes that his work exists. He is not expected to answer the telephone, to find things that are lost, to see why the children are crying, or feed the cat. He can shut his door. Imagine (I said) a mother shutting her door, and the children knowing she is behind it; why, the very thought of it is outrageous to them. A woman who sits staring into space, into a country that is not her husband’s or her children’s is likewise known to be an offence against nature. So a house is not the same for a woman. She is not someone who walks into the house, to make use of it, and will walk out again. She is the house; there is no separation possible.

(And this is true, though as usual when arguing for something I am afraid I do not deserve, I put it in too emphatic and emotional terms. At certain times, perhaps on long spring evenings, still rainy and sad, with the cold bulbs in bloom and a light too mild for promise drifting over the sea, I have opened the windows and felt the house shrink back into wood and plaster and those humble elements of which is it made, and the life in it subside, leaving me exposed, empty-handed, but feeling a fierce and lawless quiver of freedom, of loneliness too harsh and perfect for me now to bear. Then I know how the rest of the time I am sheltered and encumbered, how insistently I am warmed and bound.)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Oh, joy, joy!

My Closopen story does not really deal with food so it came somewhat as a surprise when editors Cecilia Mangerra Brainard and Marily Ysip Orosa included it in the A La Carte food anthology. I was ecstatic.

We read portions of our stories at the February 12 launching at the Podium. I was sandwiched* between two writers I highly respect, Butch Dalisay and Dean Alfar, whose Amnesty and Terminos are required reading in my literature pilot class.

This being a food and fiction book, Dean read of adobo, while Butch read about egg rolls.

I read about poop.

Because I have foot-in-mouth disease when I feel terribly inadequate—say, like reading about poop next to a table laden with food—I turned to Butch and said, "My poop can beat your egg rolls." To accommodate me, he laughed. He had also laughed when, in my first day of class under his tutelage, I mumbled something about his probably being ornery (I was nervous, see? And late for class). He was telling us to write to our highest standard, to write for those who are ornery, fussy and difficult to please. I blurted, "But that's almost the entire English department." And the dear man from the English Department (he was the dean, alas!) laughed as I swallowed my tongue, buried my head in the sand, and shot myself. Closopen was the first I wrote for his class, and the first that I submitted for an anthology.

Tonight I chanced upon the Passion for books article of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, listing A la Carte as a must-read for summer and Closopen as a choice cut. Oh, the joy of being affirmed for what one does!

"A La Carte (Food & Fiction)"
Collected and edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and Marily Ysip Orosa
Anvil Publishing

You'll need two vital ingredients before you start devouring this book: a full stomach and a comfortable seat some distance away from a working kitchen and a food court. Because definitely, a hungry reader will be torn between finishing the sumptuous stories and rushing off to try out the recipes offered as appetizer at the start of each chapter. The tasty morsels leave you convinced that food is more than just repast; it is also the stuff of national pride, childhood memory, romance, regret, rivalry, and even bloody murder. This book is one thick bubbling stew that satisfies one's hunger and imagination while whetting the appetite for more. Best cuts: "Wok Man" by Jose Dalisay, Jr.; "Closopen" by Janet Villa, "No Salt" by Nadine Sarreal, "Pedro and the Chickens" by Ian Rosales Casocot, "Kitchen Secrets" by Shirlie Mae Choe, and "Does It Matter What the Dead Think?" by Erwin Cabucos. (by Penny Azarcon-de la Cruz)

* Sandwiched, har har. Pun really not intended but, hey, still appreciated.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

'Twas a dark and stormy night...


The day after I submitted my Quentin the Question Mark (who, by the way, is renamed Quiting—not really an interesting story there, but could probably tell you next time), I take those la-la-la quizzes about ourselves—this is what we do when we, as the Polymath says, have no life—and I am told that Quentin, and apparently I, will sink into a mire.

And what are the odds: immediately after I watch tonight's episode of Jeopardy!, from which I learned that chicken fat is called shmaltz, I am told that all I really want to do is roll around in chicken fat.

The Polymath, of course, has recently assured me that the chicken is the sickest animal on the planet.


What horrible Edward Gorey Death will you die?


You will sink in a mire. You like to think you're normal, but deep down you really just want to strip off your clothes and roll around in chicken fat.
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code