This, above all:

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

Friday, June 29, 2007

Fast and furious

For fast fiction with a zing, check out Blagador's micro-fiction, which he arranged using black-and-white photos. The Polymath is one of my "kids"; I have an entire brood of writers who call me Mum, Mudra or Madder—a name I earned because I was, dagnabbit, the oldest among the fellows of two national workshops I attended. I'd like to think that I and my house are a safe haven to them; many of my kids have come or stayed over to chat, read, eat, borrow books, watch TV, or, yeah, even to iron a shirt.

I'm as proud as any mum.

A writer's writ

My flights to and from Cebu last year were often delayed, once by as long as four hours. Sometimes I arrive a little after midnight.

I'm not too fazed by such delays or when I'm in a long-haul flight. Maybe it's because nowadays I'm rarely in a hurry to go somewhere—the wonderful trade-off when I junked my power suits and took up writing. I work at home, in my own space at my own time (which, alas, also means I shoulder my own health care, withhold my own taxes, and forgo 13th month pay).

The delays give me pockets of time to surf or write—I am rarely without Samwise, my usually dirty iBook—or to read (what's the use of scrimping on clothes to buy books if you don't carry one with you all the time?), or more recently to blog, using my trusty Tungsten, inherited from my dear friend Jon (the Tungsten looks bedraggled after five years, but still works beautifully).

I also love solitude (I didn't always, but have grown to love my own quiet times). And I don't mind being exiled to my own devices.

That's the beauty of writing. It's "work" we can do almost anywhere. A pen, paper, or, if one is lucky, a laptop with battery juiced to full.

Many of us writers are always writing: when we look at someone, we are more likely subconsciously storing in our mind how the neon lights play against his pallid skin, blue and pink against his forearm, or how the corners of her mouth twitch when she lies.

Perhaps writers look at life differently. Part of us often step back and catalog an event taking place. Our being “in the moment” is lived thrice: once, when it happens; twice, when remembered; thrice, when reduced to words.

Friday, June 22, 2007


That's it. Time to sleep now. After wasting precious time on HBO's Nanny McPhee, I finally have something that strings together the mandatory five words: shoes, discover, murder, subterranean, compatibility.

And what do you know—I actually had fun.

I was snug in my bed, dreaming of a world without clocks, when a call girl who lived down on the tenth floor was helping her American lover commit suicide before dawn. Not really sure if she’s a call girl or he was American; to my neighbors on whom I eavesdropped while we were crammed in the elevator, every Caucasian is an American and every American’s dark-skinned companion with a harsh accent is a prostitute. The roving security guard had discovered the American’s leather shoes littered behind the building, one shoe on the pavement, the other lounging atop a parked car’s hood. A resident had opened his window to throw out a cigarette butt, and saw the body sprawled on the roof of the next-door warehouse that was our only line of defense against the sight and stench of the Pasig. The woman had shown the police his suicide note. She said all she did was help push him through the narrow window. His heft could barely squeeze through the steel frame, and she had heaved and strained at the effort.

If we were still talking to each other, you’d tell me assisted suicide is nonetheless punishable, like homicide or murder. Seventeen years out of law school, and you still cannot get over your Juris Doctor. Esq. remains appended to your name, perhaps now more of a consolation when no man has given you his name to use.

So subterranean of the inamorata, you’d sniff. That is so you. You have to use words mangled beyond recognition when there are other terms more imaginative for those you do not wish to associate with: troglodytes, hoi polloi, the great unwashed. Once, you mispronounced Worcestershire to the waiter, and I wanted to correct you like I did when you confused unconscious with subconscious, but I didn’t, and suggested you get ketchup instead. It was then I knew for sure I was no longer your friend.

It wasn’t a question of compatibility. We share the same seamstress, the same distaste for the thin, pinched voice of CSI Miami’s Emily Procter, the same acid test for our dates. I am halfway deaf in my left ear and you in your right so when we couldn’t catch the dialogue on TV, we’d lean forward and demand in unison: What?!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The eleventh hour

Oh, the weight of a million things to finish by the day's end.

In a week chock-full of chores, today was an exhibit of fraught multitasking: While keeping an eye out on the pasta sauce simmering to my right, I was washing dishes and studying Dean Alfar's The Dragon in the Bell published in this week's Philippines Free Press. My copy of Free Press was spreadeagled above the sink, two laundry clips pinning it away from the splash of dishwater. Dean's story is up for discussion in my fiction class tomorrow, for which I also need to read another story (gah, must breathe) and submit a vignette that should contain these words: discover, subterranean, shoes, compatibility, and murder. And, just so there's no pressure or anything, our venerable teacher Butch Dalisay requires that we write "fiction that matters."


The food's all done and waiting for The Coach, the kitchen floor's mopped free of stray garlic peel and tomato sauce, and the house is being aired out of the smell of anchovies.

I'm closeted in our bedroom, the curtains swept to the side so I can look out to the skyline for those times when I need inspiration for the vignette. The TV's turned on so I won't feel like I'm missing out on today's Law and Order. My fingers are poised over the QWERTYs.

Several long gazes at the skyline later, I still don't have a clue how to string the five words together. (It's the subterranean that's killing me.)

What was it that Butch said last week? "Fiction: Do it well. Do it honestly."

Well, here I am, honest to the bone, and I remain bereft of a workable plot. So I blog. Particularly about what Janet Burroway said of the paradox of least wanting to do what we most want to do: "We are in love with words except when we have to face them."

This difficulty is my fault, of course. My writing muscles have stultified from disuse.

According to Burroway, "The habit of mind that produces stories is a habit and can be cultivated, so that the more and the longer you write, the less likely you are to run out of ideas." Writing, she says, is mind-farming: "You have to plow, plant, weed, and hope for growing weather. Why a seed turns into a plant is something you are never going to understand, and the only relevant response to it is gratitude. You may be proud, however, of having plowed."

Time, then, to dig through the dirt. I will remember the poet William Stafford's advice to his students to "write to their lowest standard."

Friday, June 08, 2007

Struck by lightning

Much could be said about Jack's Ridge: how this resort and restaurant complex high up in Shrine Hills, Matina, was once a Japanese outpost in World War II; how it had been under water before the sea retreated and left clams on the mountaintops; how the coffee shop, they say, fails to produce brews as spectacular as the Ridge's view of the city and Davao Gulf.

But all that is overshadowed by what Jack's Ridge had given me.

I was taking photos of the moon "riding on ghostly skies" when lightning flashed low on the horizon as I pressed the shutter.

It gave me this:

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Poetry, by hook or by crook

I took to reading—and truly enjoying—poetry rather late in life. Away from the classroom.

To me there are three kinds of poems: those I can enjoy without creating another frown line; those I revel in for their sound, sense and sensuousness; and the
many that make me think I should just stick to fiction.

Of course there is the obligatory Rilke and Neruda*, every other yuppie's must-have poetry for brown nosing or bluff sophistication. The rule in cocktail conversations: When all else fails, bluff.)

I wonder if, when I struggle over poetry, I am one of those Billy Collins mourns over in his
Introduction to Poetry:

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means

I'm still scratching my head over some portions of Whitman's Song of Myself. Some time ago I downloaded his poetry into my iPod, and I probably looked funny frowning in concentration inside the crowded MRT coach, his words pouring into me, and I barely hanging on to the pole and my sanity.

* A lifetime ago, drowned in heretofores and Know All Men By These Presents, I thought Neruda was a friend of my cousin Aris when my cousin’s poetry referred to Neruda's Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines. Oh, the shame.

** Photo borrowed from someone else's site in one of my Net trawling trips. Can't remember whose, unfortunately.