Wednesday, January 26, 2011

battle hymn of the tiger mother by amy chua

Forget the increasing uncertainty of the Westerns’ decline from the top spot relating to all things that need ranking—economy, technology, happiness or whatever—as what many reports buzz in all forms of media right now, following the release of Amy Chua’s memoir “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” It has sparked a lot of debate but the author is only concerned with one thing: her kids’ future.

I have not read the book yet but the hullabaloo surrounding it is a giveaway of what the Tiger Mom is all about. To mention Chua’s treatment on raising her children with endless piano and violin practices, threat of stuffed toy burning, or zero sleepovers is not enough to raise anyone’s doubtful and appalled eyebrows. It is much more than those actually.

After reading this, this, and this, I know Chua has her reasons of what must be done to what, and we are just here bombarded with our own speculations if we are raised the right way or not. But when does it cross the line? Is there a line between “extreme” and “completely fine” at all? Did you just wish you had a tiger mom?

Child rearing is simply a tricky issue, and the more it becomes complicated the more it is brought up in every household. And Chua is just one of the millions.

Monday, January 24, 2011

room by emma donoghue

I always have little patience for precocious children in literature (which gave my children’s literature professor back in college some serious head-scratching), but Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room” is surprisingly worthy of enduring. It doesn’t feel like you have to endure at all, even if you are reading the words of a five-year-old from the very first page. It is not entirely new, the language and the technique (there is Mark Haddon’s novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, and there’s Marguerite Alcazaren De Leon’s short story “Yaya”), but what’s notable here is how everything moves logically and breathtakingly from Point A to Point B. To sum it all up, the title’s subject is (could be) much bigger than anything else you have read lately.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

cat and bane

It is final. Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy would put on the leather suits as Catwoman and Bane (yeah, he had pseudo-leather getup in the comic books), respectively, in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Christopher Nolan’s third take of the Batman films. I don’t know with these new recruits but I think Anne is just way too commercial for this upholstered franchise with an art-house feel. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Water from the sea
Must be as heavy
As the name
Of the person
You love
Have loved
Or the absence of love
It is both possibility
And impossibility
Like how sea water
That is cupped in the hands
Creates a sea in the hands
Washed of all weight
But still a world of water
In its own right

When Mother had me as a little lump of a girl she said I brought a burden that deserved all the trouble in the world. When I grew up and appeared in her doorstep one day, a duffel bag in one hand and a five-year old in the other, she said she does not deserve this. I do not deserve this. Hands wringing, she recited litanies and that my old room was heavy with cobwebs. What troubled me more was that she whispered something in her just dropped.

What would happen
If Atlas did shrug
And drop to his knees
Will there be more tremors
In the earth
In our bodies
In our lives
Weight of palms
On my face
You shrugged
And left
I guess Atlas
Could only do so much
The shoulders give in
The world is not only his

I remember being in the backyard and picked two guavas from the ground, stared at them on my six-year old palms. Mother stopped sweeping and explained they fall off their branches when they are overripe. I brushed one on my skirt and took a bite, its sweetness overwhelming. On the brows of the hills, beyond our house, the sun was setting. I believed that every day the sun gets overripe and falls off the sky, its seed growing to full form in the morning. I felt smart.

You offer a bouquet
Of yellow roses
So yellow the air
Around us ripen that
Borders on decay
It is my turn to shrug
A flower should be
Left alone
It has had enough
To water a field
To create a sea
For today a dew
Is all it could take
To carry

Friday, January 14, 2011

career changes

I already find it numbing when a person says I look like someone they know or have seen somewhere. But recently, what’s giving me the electric shock deals something more than this exceptionally generic face of mine. It is other people’s assumption of what my profession really is based on this exceptionally generic face of mine. And here’s a bunch of jobs (as far as I can remember) that I have rounded up from the late 2010 to this date.

I always denied being one. I enjoy the act but I feel queasy toying with that identity. I know my flaws so I keep myself away from that word. But since I am working in a company where, well, I write (or connect words to form) newsletters—and I have a goatee, a mustache, long hair, and a pair of piercings—everyone says I am this, and there goes the logic of the title.

Fashion Designer
When the previous job title of mine (supposedly) has already been embedded in almost every head in the office (yeah, thanks to word of mouth), a woman about my age sits beside me one day and asserts “Mas mukha ka pang fashion designer.” There is no humor in her voice. That’s job number two.

Call Center Agent
All ready for my daily commute to work early in the morning, next-door lady neighbor chances upon me leaving the house and sweetly asks, “Saang agency ka nagtatrabaho?” But of course! Call center agents wear dark blue slacks, black leather shoes, and sky blue kusot mayaman barong in their offices, right? “No. I work in a food company,” I respond and leave her by the gates with a smile.

Since the neighborhood in the past few days has gotten a little bit chatty, I give in and mingle to one. Predictably, conversation falls into the work category and asks me what I do for a living. I fire out the usual one-two punch of my job description, feeling happy because she is smiling of the things that I do, when she laughs and says: “Akala ko musikero ka!” I stop my monologue. At least there’s talent in being one.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

spaces by arkaye velasquez kierulf


In this room I was born. And I knew I was in the wrong place: the world. I knew pain was to come. I knew it by the persistence of the blade that cut me out. I knew it as every baby born to the world knows it: I came here to die.


Somewhere a beautiful woman in a story I do not understand is crying. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. She is holding a letter. She is in love with Peter. I am in love with her.


Stand on the floor where it’s marked X. I am standing by your side where it’s marked Y. We are a shoulder’s length apart. I’m so close you can almost smell the perfume. If I step ten paces away from you, there could be a garden between us, or a table and some chairs. If I step another 20 paces there could be a house between us. If I continue to walk away from you in this way, tramping through walls and hovering above water, in 80,150,320 steps I will bump into you. I can never get away from you, and will you remember me? Distance brings us closer. There is no distance.


In 1961 I was in Berlin. It was a dusty Sunday in August. In the radio news was out that Ulbricht had convinced Khrushchev to build a wall around West Berlin. I remember it precisely: By midnight East German troops had sealed off the zonal boundary with barbed wire. The streets along which the barrier ran had been torn up. I lived in that street. It was the day after my birthday. I remember the dust covering the sky. I remember being scared. Father had not returned from the other side. The Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse had orders to shoot anyone who would attempt to defect. Father had not returned.


Happiness is simple.
Sadness forks into many roads.


Before the time of Christ, Aristotle believed that the earth was the center of the universe because he needed a stationary reference point against which to measure all other motions: a rock falling, a star reeling through the sky, his heart beating against his chest like a club. He needed to believe in certainty, in absolute space. Without it, the world would not be known absolutely. Without it, the world cannot be known.

Twenty centuries later Hendrik Lorentz needed to believe that every single molecule in the universe must move through a stationary material called the aether, as every human being in his various turnings must move through God. Scientists looked everywhere for proof of this aether. And everywhere they found nothing.


I have sometimes been accused of being a bore. I beg to differ: people laugh at my jokes, and I’m handsome. I would like now to talk more about myself: I don’t like going to airports and hospitals. They make me uneasy. In both cases, somebody is always going to leave. I was born in 1983, and have never been to Berlin. But I have a memory of being in Berlin in 1961. I have a memory of something that never happened.

I would like to elaborate on myself, but you will understand if I talk instead about the sky in Berlin in 1961: it was covered with dust. There were no birds. There was no sky.


Memory is brutal because precise.


She said: give me more space. I said: don’t you love me anymore? She said: give me more space. I said: why? Did I do something wrong? Is there something wrong? Is there someone else? When did you stop loving me? In what precise moment? In what room? What city?

I held her tight as one who’s about to lose his own life holds on. Then she said: give me more space. I said: no.


I have only one purpose: to live intensely.


I wish I never met you
and I wish you never left.
You taste like a river in June.


I’m going to say something important. Look at my face. Ignore my eyes. Just listen to me. But listen only to the timbre of my voice, not to what I am saying. They are different. They are two different rooms. The first is an exhibition of despair, the second only an explanation.

The first is all you have to listen to. So listen carefully because I cannot repeat myself:

“Everything/ one suspects to be true/ is true.”


In 1879 a boy is born in Germany. At age five he’d throw a chair at his violin teacher and chase him out. In time he would develop the capacity to withdraw instantaneously from a crowd into loneliness. At twenty-six he would publish his theory of relativity in Annalen der Physik. He looks crazy, but he is certain: there is no aether, no absolute space.


Sometimes they thought it was the words.
What they wanted to say could not be said.

They fixed the TV, vacuumed the rug,
dusted the furniture, looked out the window.

Sometimes she would purposefully lose hold of
a plate and it would smash to the floor.

Then they would have something to say,
only to begin to say it then stop.


Look at this box. It is empty except for a diary, a book, and this picture in my hand. Now look at this picture. It weighs nothing and occupies almost zero space. I can slip it in anywhere and it will fit: inside the diary, under the box, through a crack on the wall. If I tear it several times, it will occupy a different volume, many and various. It mutates, you see. If I burn it, it will smoke into the air. It will take up a whole expanse.


How many more times
are you going to let the world
hurt you?


My father is an incorrigible storyteller. He would tell the same stories in different ways. I wouldn’t know which ones to believe. So I believed all of them. “There is no story that is not true,” said Uchendu.

Father would point at the TV. He would repeat lines, rehearse the beginnings and ends, explicate with his hands the elaborate twists and turns of every road.

He said: “I am dying.”

I said: “But aren’t all of us dying.”


And I thought the world
was about this leaving,
not about anybody’s leaving
but about this leaving.
The next day it was the same.


A beautiful woman walks into a room. The room is dark. There are no windows. There is one light bulb but any time now it will go off. I pretend not to notice and look away, my heart beating against my chest like a club. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. What other forms of happiness are there than this?


In 1989 the Berlin wall falls down.


I believe in love only when it rains.


To appreciate the value of land, one need only look into a painting: so much beauty. Buying land means buying the layers of beauty directly above it. It means buying the sky above it. And the birds above it, the clouds, the gods.

In truth you are buying a corner of the universe. You are saying: this is my room. You are saying: I live here. Here I exist.


Your sadness is immaterial. You did
not come into the world to be happy.


You came to suffer/survive.


How many words have you spoken in your life?
How many did you mean?
How many did you understand?


Somebody picks up a phone. He dials a number. His voice travels a thousand miles into another country. On the other end somebody picks up and hears the voice. Who is this?– This is me. The phone is hung up. The voice travels back a thousand miles.

Elsewhere somebody picks up a phone and before he could dial forgets the number.


Sometimes wars are waged because there are too many people in too few rooms.


Memory is incomplete–lost.
The world is incomplete–vanishing.

Nothing more happens. You open your eyes and it’s over.

Memory is brutal.
Memory is precise.


In the next room people I do not know are talking with hushed voices. Their secret slips out the window like a cat. It is raining, and I press my ear to the wall. I imagine that one of them is smoking a cigarette. I imagine that one of them is covering his mouth in surprise.


When my aunt died the doctors said the fat clogged her arteries. Every week she visited the hospital, and every week the vein on her wrist had to be ripped out so a catheter could be stuck into her body to suck out her blood. You could see the plasma pass through a filter and then back to the body. If you put your ear to her wrist you would hear her heart.

Before my uncle died the heart attacks were so excruciating he said he’d prefer to just die. They transported him to the hospital, and on the way to the emergency room his heart gave. Mother said my uncle ate too much pork and drank too much beer. She wonders if he’s going to be happy in heaven.

In some house in some province in some country in some novel there is a story of a man a father a child a lover who dies because of too much sadness.


Nobody thought that what was wrong was the love.


She said: give me more space.


Arkaye V. Kierulf was a fellow for poetry in the 48th Silliman University National Writers Workshop.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

call for submission of manuscripts to the 50th silliman university national writers workshop

The Silliman University National Writers Workshop is now accepting applications for the 50th National Writers Workshop to be held on May 2-20, 2011 in the SU Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village.

This Writers Workshop is offering fifteen fellowships to promising young writers who would like a chance to hone their craft and refine their style. Fellows will be provided housing, a modest stipend, and a subsidy to partially defray costs of their transportation.

To be considered, applicants should submit manuscripts in English on or before February 25, 2011 (seven to ten poems; or three to five short stories; or three to five creative non-fiction essays). Manuscripts should be submitted in hard copy and as email attachment, preferably in MS Word 2003, to, together with a résumé, a recommendation letter from a literature professor or a writer of national standing, a notarized certification that the works are original, and two 2X2 ID pictures.

Send all applications or requests for information to Department of English and Literature, attention Dr. Evelyn F. Mascuñana, Chair, Silliman University, 6200 Dumaguete City.

longs shots or shooting the moon?

Yes, it is already the second week of the new year but it is never too late to extend my list of resolutions. Though sometimes better read than done, I think I have created to-do’s that I could pull off (hopefully). Besides, I managed to complete one resolution last year (which is the last bullet in this list) until I unknowingly took a cocktail drink with Sprite in the mix in the last few days of December. Forget it. Here’s to defying excuses for 2011!

Completely finish reading a novel or anthology every month. I am a (very) slow reader but I will give this a shot. I’ve gotten numerous books last Christmas, and stacked in a corner of my room they just scream to be read. Not that I’m complaining. This is light-years better than a stack of journals.

Write a new short story or poem or finish writing one in each month. I almost accomplished this last year but due to the irrepressible shifting of the cosmos I failed.

Draft the freshman novel. I have to do this. I am almost in my mid-20’s! (Fitzgerald wrote “The Great Gatsby” at 28, Thomas Mann at 24 for his “The Buddenbrooks,” Kafka at 29 for “The Metamorphosis,” Hemingway at 27 for “The Sun Also Rises,” John Updike at 28 for “Rabbit, Run,” and Pynchon at 26 for “V.”). There’s no harm in being ambitious (I guess).

Return to Tagbilaran this March for some breather and to Dumaguete this May and linger for a week (at the least).

For something that does not deal with words, here’s one: never drink or sip even a drop of carbonated drink or soda (a continuation of last year’s resolution).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

under the light of this year

The 2000’s is quite an interesting decade for me.

Imagine, in a span of ten years, you graduated in high school, felt the diversity of emotional pangs in college, fortunately graduating just in time even with the excess baggage, and plunged into the country’s workforce of which everything you had learned in the previous years were but a small fraction of the demands that was in store for you. Surprise, surprise.

Yes, I had my fair share of disappointments but it was pointless dwelling in them. Because nevertheless, as what a new acquaintance told me a few days ago, it is also a decade of achievements (I can’t enumerate those between 2000 and 2009 so I will settle with those in the latter part).

“Just small achievements,” I corrected her.
“They’re still achievements,” she corrected me back. I blushed.

Looking back, I cannot help but swell with pride even in that oftentimes shaky year that is 2010: there’s the fact that I endured one corporate year that I previously thought was very unlikely; the unforgettable trips to Camarines Sur, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Davao, and even to the undiscovered nooks and crannies of Bohol; the fiction fellowship in the 10th IYAS Creative Writing Workshop; the publication of short stories, poems, and opinion articles in Philippines Free Press, Philippines Graphic, Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Weekly Sillimanian (I just can’t leave this college paper) and Paper Monster Press, all of which I believe was a long shot; and the wish fulfillment of not getting a journal/diary for every Christmas party exchanging gift session I attended.

It was joyful, indeed.

Amidst all these celebrations, I faced the last page of a calendar and felt something drop inside of me: out of the seven siblings, only four including myself will be with my parents during the December gatherings. Christmas Eve (of which the 25th is my mother’s birthday), New Year’s Eve, and many more were almost always celebrated as a whole. But last month, two of my brothers and a sister, because of necessity, were out of the country, absent in countless photographs.

Before I could even focus my eyes on the void, waiting for clouds to grey and release a heavy downpour on me, synching to the tune of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, I thought everything will be just fine. And it did.

Distances test the strength of the ties that bind us.

I guess this is how nature works. No matter how far each other are, persistence and endurance will fill any gap. Like the sea turtles, it is strange but marvelous that when their eggs hatch in some distant shore, the little ones brave the currents and get back to their kin in the depths of the ocean. The sense of home is palpable.

Whether this new decade brings in more achievements or none at all, whether in forthcoming gatherings the family is complete or not, I just have to let the stars align and let them run in their own courses.

Yes, it is still too early to tell that everything will be just fine but whatever each morning brings, I will always try to meet its light and feel warmer, contented than the last.

Monday, January 03, 2011

bye waves

On the second day of the new year, I did the weirdest thing in my entire life. After rounding up my grocery items, I chanced upon a barbershop on my way out of the supermarket, and maybe due to the shaking of the cosmos, decided to get a trim. I was perfectly contented with my shoulder-length wavy locks, except for those stubborn strands that stick out in opposing angles. In fact, I am in the spectrums’ opposite end of the idea of getting or donning something new after 365 days, but I entered the shop anyway. Now sitting on a chair that I hadn’t sat on for a long time, I told the barber flatly: “Ikaw na ang ang bahala” (It’s up to you).

Surprisingly—and luckily—I was happy with the results. I have to use less shampoo this time (And by the way, if you're curious, it all looks like that thumbnail photo to your right, only shorter).