Wednesday, March 30, 2011

birthdays are (not) surprising

Rarely does it matter to me, my birthday. If gifts are present (yes, pun intended), I’d gladly receive them. Gifts or no gifts, life moves on, and I just let the great aging world spin on its tired old orbit.

But yesterday unfolded and fulfilled some of my wishes. Whether it was caused by some cosmic malfunction or that the fates were playing tricks on me, all I can say right now is that it is the greatest malfunction or the most arresting trick I have ever experienced or witnessed. Plus after another plus. And days before the birthday, there are some interesting instances too.

Seriously, it was all unbelievable.

Perhaps this is a long overdue reward, a compensation for whatever good I’ve done? Nah, can’t even recall a single case, so let’s scrap that out. (Or cleaning my bedroom windows last weekend counts?). Anyway, I was thankful, because being thankful is better than questioning a blessing. And three of the most cherished gifts I received yesterday (and the days before that) were:

1) Greetings from people that matter to me and those who try to be. It was a given that my parents’ call and messages were important and the top of them all, but there was one thing that stuck out in a positive way: a handwritten letter sent to me through courier. That was quaint and touching.

2) “Weights,” my first ever poem that is not critiqued by a professor or a patient reader, is published in the Philippines Free Press (March 26 issue).

3) “Morning Prayer,” my short fiction attempt at trying to be sacrilegious, of which I eventually change everything save for the first paragraph, is published in the Philippines Graphic (April 2 issue). It just affirms that I should do without blasphemy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

our names and history must be dear to us

Purchased because, aside from the quaint cover that looks really good with the rest of its kin (there is Woolf’s or Foer’s or Orwell’s to buy next), Jhumpa Lahiri had been racking up my system every time I passed by a bookstore, which was every day. The first part of the two-in-one book is the anthology, “Interpreter of Maladies.” Hands down. Let me just say that this is sitting now next to my favorite short story collections such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Namesake” Rosario Cruz Lucero’s “Feast and Famine: Stories of Negros,” and Frederick Barthelme’s “The Law of Averages.” Clearly, the styles differ from each other—OK, maybe except for the first two which are almost alike, for the lack of better word—but it is in their deft handling of vivid descriptions, history, tradition laced with modern snippets of sentiments both happy and not, make their stories (now especially with Lahiri’s) a cut above the usual short fiction fare.

The stories I thoroughly enjoyed were When Mr. Pirzada Came To Dine, A Real Durwan, the book’s title story, and the last, The Third and Final Continent. The former articulates the history of India without burdening it with encyclopedic information, which is something very notable especially when each fact that is presented parallels to the emotions of the characters in the story. Then there’s Interpreter of Maladies, which deserves its right to be on the cover of the book. In such a compact structure, Lahiri manages to bring a story of growth and (should-be-disregarded) obsession that involves a photograph, a scrap of paper, and a whole lot of monkeys. A Real Durwan, on the other hand, is a story about a doorkeeper’s slow descent into madness. Everyone has read a story or two with that plot but it has been a very engaging read even though I find it the most depressing of the lot. That alone is a writer’s accomplishment. It highlights the soft spot in us for people who we always thought are the least of our concerns. The last one, The Third and Final Continent, magnifies how we see age in its supposedly linear movement—are we getting kinder, richer, happier, or is it all the other way around? Other stories are tasty too, but to divulge anything further might lose the potency of the author’s well-layered but accessible insights. It is no wonder the collection has won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, and Amy Tan writing about Lahiri “as the kind of writer who makes you want to grab the next person you see and say, Read This!’”

Lahiri’s second work in this book is the novel, “The Namesake.” Ah, this is a tricky one. The whole plot involves a decision, an act done by our protagonist here, affecting one thing after the other—toppling dominoes style. Though the domino metaphor could immediately give the sense that it is all for the worst, I must say it is not entirely running headfirst to that. The novel shares some happy moments too: carefully rebooted clichés on being free, loved, and accepted; celebration of life; and the idea that names and words could change and save lives. And the last, I believe, is something worth remembering when closing this book. Now I am determined to read more Jhumpa Lahiri.

Monday, March 14, 2011

call for the applications to the 18th iligan national writers workshop

The Mindanao Creative Writers Group, Inc., and the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension (OVCRE) are accepting applications from writers to the 18th Iligan National Writers Workshop (INWW) to be held on May 23-27, 2011 in Iligan City.

Panelists this year are Erlinda Kintanar Alburo, Leoncio P. Deriada, Merlie M. Alunan, German V. Gervacio, Steven Patrick C. Fernandez, Antonio R. Enriquez, Ralph Semino Galan, Christine Godinez-Ortega and this year’s keynote speaker, Pearlsha B. Abubakar, 9th INWW Fellow (2002).

Fifteen (15) slots, five each from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and one (1) slot each for the Manuel T. Buenafe Writing Fellowship (MTBWF) and the Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen Bursary for Creative Writing or a total of 17 slots are available for writing fellowships to the 18th INWW.

Applicants are required to submit five poems, or, one short story, excerpt of a novel, or, a one-act play in Filipino, English or in Sebuano, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Waray, Chabacano (with English or Filipino translations) along with the applicant’s biodata, two 2X2 photos and a certification that his/her work is original. For short stories, excerpts of novels or plays, please submit a hard copy and a CD with the manuscripts encoded in MS Word. Those submitting excerpts of novels or works on progress—please provide a one page summary of the novel. Unpublished works are preferred and applicants who have attended regional workshops are given priority.

Writing fellows will be given free board and lodging and a travel allowance. Applications must be postmarked on or before March 25, 2011. No applications or manuscripts will be accepted if sent by fax or e-mail. Applicants are also advised to keep copies of their manuscripts since these will not be returned. Announcements of this year’s writing fellows are released during the third week of April 2011.

Applicants to this year’s workshop may download application and other forms at (under MSU-IIT OVCRE MMIDU).

Send all applications to the 18th INWW Director c/o OVCRE, MSU-IIT, Iligan City. For more information call Pat Cruz, Leda Gonzales or Ofelia Taneo at telefax (063) 2232343; or e-mail:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the trail to nagsasa cove

When you hear the name
Nagsasa, virgin trekker,
Take note of the beat:
Boom, bugah!
Boom boom, bugah bugah!
Let this be a promise
Of sand between your toes
Of an anthem for the sun
To light up Balingkilat, one
That will soon flank your tent
Like a mother nursing a child.
Think of this walk a tribute
To what you have missed
In cold cubicles in skyscrapers,
In jeepneys and buses beside
Monuments, and on long asphalt
Streets that bound rotundas.
If our forerunners are indeed
Born from the ground,
Then this path to Nagsasa
Is one of the many histories
Of our bloodline. You march
On the very womb of life.
Boom, bugah!
Boom boom, bugah bugah!
That is the drum of your heart now.
You are almost there.
Never mind the wind
That pulls and pushes you.
Cinco Pincos is no comic;
It calls out from the distance
To tell you your fall is necessary.
Remember, beginners
Walk on all fours. Listen closely,
Just listen to every sound
Your footstep makes,
And your path clears,
Your load eases,
Your climb less steep—
Allow the trail to carry you.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

zambales express

From the take off in Caloocan with the infamous Victory Liner to reach Zambales at ten o’clock in the evening, we knew there was no turning back when we reached at the foot of the mountain range by four the following day.

My last climb happened years and years ago, and the thought of it alone was not comforting. Yes, one can say the trail to Nagsasa Cove is for beginners, but still it is a trail that requires climbing, grappling, sometimes hopping, walking long walks, and enduring a variety of changing landscapes—especially one that, with one wrong footing, will give you a one-way ticket to the bottom of Neverland.

There’s Mount Balingkilat, there’s Mount Cinco Pincos, there’s grass, there are herons, there are trees (not found in Ortigas!). Every element is overwhelming.

By the time we arrived in Nagsasa Cove, we immediately set camp on the long stretch of sand, a little far off from the beach. When light’s off came, the wind at night lashed our tents like crazy. But no huff and puff could awaken a man in Decolgen Forte and an adequate dose of liquid life (which, to the veterans, is spelled G-I-N-V-O-D-K…).

The following morning—as if yesterday’s revelry of swimming, playing Frisbee, prancing around the bonfire, singing and cheering (boom boogah!) happened a long long time ago—we woke up refreshed and energized (yes, energized, we Frisbee’d and jogged at seven!).

And just like any fateful gatherings that set off in a good start, there was the not-so-good end encroaching on our backs like goose bumps or hair standing on their ends. It was time to leave. After all had packed up and jumped for the mandatory jump shot(s), we hopped onto our respective boats by eleven and drifted to Pundaquit.

This is where we bid goodbye to Zambales to return to Manila in classic jeepney-bus-taxi routine. I arrived at home by nine in the evening. It was a long ride—and a very interesting one.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

in her own words

"Pag nawala na yung pera, wala na yung kabaitan
[When the money’s gone, the kindness is gone].”

I did not know the entirety of the story but that statement from an old lady vendor—who I passed by in the waiting shed on my way to work yesterday—packed a lot of punch.

Whether its impact to me is based on first hand validation or a general understanding of man’s attitude towards money, I just find the declaration saddening.

Coming from a woman who sells cigarettes, candies, and homemade sandwiches early in the morning to bring home the bacon (no mocking pun intended) to her family, the words bear all the weight of a necessary means to accept things as they are. Maybe someone’s just in a tough episode in their lives, maybe I am just conjuring things up in my head.

But if what I thought is right, even if I do not like the sound of fatalism, no one’s to blame people feel that way. Look around, even those in the upper echelons of our country are stirring in a bag of controversy because of money—both in the presence and absence of it. There’s Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, there’s the military send-off pabaons to retiring AFP chiefs, and I am sure there’s even more we do not know.

They say money is the root of all evil, but I think money is only evil in the wrong hands. And if that money is gone in those hands, you can say all hell will break loose. And subsequently, kindness will be hard to find.

Until all of this will come to a positive resolution, we will share the same sentiment with the old lady vendor.

deadline for submission of manuscripts to the 50th silliman national writers workshop extended

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 March 5, 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.