Wednesday, April 30, 2003

four months from now

Some people are going to crow for joy. Some will spiral into despair (like I did last year). Come September, the 2003 Palanca winners will be announced and provoke the usual rush of “who won?”, “did someone I know win?” , “what the hell were the judges thinking?” and very very very quietly “ohmigod, I’m a loser with a capital L”.

I barely restrained a belly laugh today when I turned the newspaper page and saw a huge thermometer. The copy on top reminded all readers that today was the deadline for the Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature and to make sure to “submit your masterpiece”.

Indeed. If I were a lot younger I’d agonize about a last minute entry and try to beat the midnight deadline. What joy.

There was a time when I had idea what the Palancas were and what they meant to people (not to all people, but to enough people – winning a Palanca ensures you an obit like this when you pass away – “Palanca Award winner Dingdong Schlong passed away…”).

I was frighteningly young, bristling with misplaced arrogance and blessed with a maverick nature that got me into trouble whenever I’d question the status quo. I also ended up being practically the lone student of the late playwright Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero at UP Diliman (I was never clear who or where my other classmates were). Anyway, Freddy told me that he thought a play I’d written was good enough to win the Palanca.

“What’s that?” I asked, unimpressed like a local idiot.

“Awards for excellence in writing. I want to win one plus become a National Artist.”

“I see.”

“I think we should join this year.”

“But my play is in verse, a cheoreo-poem. And it isn’t relevant.”

“Relevant to what?”

“To the country. We’re UP, remember? My play is religious. It has modern Greek chorus and only one realistic scene-

“But do you think you’re a good writer?”

“Well, yes, sure.”

“Only the best writers win. I haven’t won, but I intend to win this year. Let’s join together,” he smiled and I nodded back before he waved goodbye and proceeded to swim in his scandalous g-string at the UP pool.

That year, Retribution (his) and Fragments of Memory (mine) won. We were ecstatic. (Freddy would not win another Palanca nor would he become a National Artist. He died a few years later and was only belatedly recognized for the great man that he was – and he wrote in English.)

Nothing beats winning for the first time. At awards night, I discovered the clannish nature of the Palanca winners. Old hands sat together, freshfaced newbies sat unspeaking, not even to each other (how embarrassing to ask someone’s name). But that was the moment it all came together for me. Here was something I liked doing (writing). Here was something I liked doing too (competing). And, if I win again, I could claim victory on my own terms, on my own efforts – not because of some literary clique, politics or influence – no one knew who I was anyway. And of course I wanted to prove myself to myself as I wrestled with the notion of what a playwright was, anyway.

Besides, winning once could be a fluke.

So the following year, I entered one play. Short Time, my motel-set gay play, won. (I was playing around with the dramatic monologue and wanted just a bed on the stage, nothing else). I was delighted (it would also be the play people chose to stage the most without my knowledge or permission). At that point I knew I could write a play in either realistic or artsy-fartsy mode, and knew that structures could be subverted. At the awards night, I knew some people and was more relaxed. I stole glances at the crop of newbies but made no effort to be friendly.

But winning twice could be an accident.

So with a very wrong goal (just to win again as opposed to really improving my craft), I focused on creating two entries: one for one-act play and another for the full-length play. And to challenge myself, I decided to have the main character of the one-act play not appear; for the full-length piece, I decided to write a musical. Not that I had any idea what the structure of a musical was. Or what recitative versus lyric meant. But that was the challenge. So research, invention, chutzpa and a lot of writing enabled me to finish both entries. Because writing is never easy. Not for me.

Loving Toto and Island (the musical without music) won. At awards night, I knew enough of the clan of writers to speak in my regular loud voice (I had also judged previously and demystified the process) and make fun of the other winners (including myself because I declined the Foundation’s offer to stage Act One of Island – because of course I didn’t have any music).

So if winning thrice is a trend, what is winning four times? I’ll tell you what it is. Absolutely no guarantee of anything, certainly not winning again. And no credible measure of worth.

After that time, I felt enough vindication to go on with the rest of my life. I felt I didn’t need to compete with Butch Dalisay’s 72,378 Palancas in various categories. I was testing my ability, my sensibilities, my craft , after all. And I love to compete anyway. (An aside on the clannishness of the Palanca winners – it’s really cool bumping into each other across the years, whether it is a giant like Kryp Yuson or someone my age, like Sarge Lacuesta, or someone I know in different context like Adel Gabot – DJ Little David from radio. You can just exchange a glance or a half-smile and move on.)

Awards don’t really mean much (but note that I prefer to say that knowing I have a few myself – what cheek!) - which is not to demean the awards and everyone who’s ever won.

It’s just that it shouldn’t be the point of writing. It should not determine your output for the year because that would mean you are only writing for the 3 judges in category.

But still, to each his own. At the very least, there are new stories to read, new poems to see and new plays to watch – and hopefully, the winners become prolific.

So let’s see who’s who four months from now.

Maybe it’s someone I know.
naked sex picture: aubrey miles in xerex

Okay, let's drop the literary crap for a while and look at something of a more prurient (and equally enjoyable, or actually, more enjoyable) sort: the continued production of sexy Filipino films starring the hottest ladies in the most risque scenarios (watch my site stats rise after putting naked sex picture - hee hee).

I'm making plans to catch Xerex Xaviera, featuring one of my favorite FHM girls (and co-host in some TV show) Aubrey Miles.

Xerex Xaviera started out as a naughty sex column in a tabloid called Abante in 1998, and quickly captured a significant number of readers - including people like me who had no business reading a tabloid (well, the boobsy girls in the inside were cool). Soon, the sex colum evolved into a sex (ahem) "literary" column that features letters from (supposedly) people from all over the Philippines, from all walks of life - often in very graphic and, yes, arousing language (though my libido had to wait for the the few seconds it took my brain to translate the Filipino to English - feh).

Anyway, I was delighted to find out that the film is structured as three one-act plays (yes, another literary reference - can't seem to get away from it) as Aubrey tackles various roles, which, pleasantly enough, guarantee us rabid viewers a variety of eksenas to enjoy. This is directed by Mel Chionglo with writing from Roy Iglesias, starring darling Aubrey and the three guys she rubs noses with.

One day, I promise you, I'll write or direct something like this. Or something sleazier and of no moral or literary value. Yeah.

In related news, Diana Zubiri will be appearing a couple of weeks from now next door from our condo at the bar/hall owned by the Bistro Lorenzo people. Anyway, I made friends with a waiter and the person who buys their food from the wetmarket and they'll sneak me in (otherwise, the tickets are around P1.5k). Apparently, Rochelle and the Sexbomb Girls were also there (all 14 of them) the other week. And Patricia Javier will have a show. And Joyce Jimenez. My god, all this time and it was under my nose.
degree of responsibility

Over lunch, Carl and I were talking about a feature article in one of today's papers. It asked a number of people, including our friend Arnold Arre, for recommendations on books to read this summer. Arnold, of course, answered with excellent choices including C.S. Lewis' beautfiful written Narnia series (I disagreed only with Goodbye, Chunky Rice for reasons I've written about earlier). However, the rest of the respondents answered with selections that weren't entirely of value - to me, of course (another observation was the paucity of Filipino works apart from Marge Evasco and Luis Katigbak).

Naturally, everyone's taste is valid, opinions are personal, blah blah. Granted. That's not the point.

What I asked Carl was this: Knowing that your list (asked in the context of you being important or influential) could potentially influence just one person to pick up your recommended book and read, would feel responsibility toward that person? Would you alter your list of books that you read for sheer brainless fun with picks from literature (which you must have read and enjoyed yourself, of course). Or would you reason "Hell, no, I'm not responsible at all."?

To what degree would you be honest and to what degree would feel a certain sense of responsibility? Does it matter? It does to me.

After much talk (yes, when you talk with me it takes a while for the earth to settle), we agreed that a qualified list would be best. At least the reader would know that you chose to recommend some piece of crap because "funny, eh". No one is misled.

By the way, both of Carl's Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah books are on the reco list.
simple prayer

Dear Lord, I know how seldom I pray
It may seem as if I only come to You
when I know I have gone astray
and need to cleanse my soul of the guilt
I have built with every passing day

But Lord, this time I'm on my knees
not exactly for myself, not just for myself,
but for others in my care

who've placed themselves in my care
unaware I can barely lift myself
off the dismal floor, off my knees

I fear the beginning of any given day
And struggle between hope and guilt
Help me not to lead them astray
when they believe in me, as I, in You
In Jesus' precious name, I pray
review: x2

Thanks once again to Cams, the gang and I scored tickets to the premiere of X2.

To cut to chase, I didn't like or enjoy it much.

In critical terms, it fails from too much plot, too much preciosité, too many characters, too little characterization and too little acting. It did nothing to move or provoke or uplift or contribute anything of worth.

In entertainment terms, yes, it had a number of interesting eye candy and thrilling fan-boy moments, but it failed to entertain consistently. If I ever decide that the worth of a film is to be measured in terms of eye candy, I'd line up for the Matrix films. Or Harry Potter. Or the kung fu Hollywood flavor of the month.

An entertainment should engage the audience within its given time frame. I could not wait to leave and have a ciggie.

But having said all that, it was not that bad, better than, say, Daredevil. But, oh Lord, let the next one be better.

Final Rating: Xmen 2 (2003)

**** (4/10)

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

vignette: wish

That last May afternoon of his brief life, while he sat on an unmoving swing suspended from an acacia tree many times his age, Matteo Crisostomo, age 7, discovered the secret of the universe and the truth about love. He was chewing a chunk of Bazooka Joe bubble gum, most definitely against the will of his indomitable mother, and thinking about nothing in particular, when he first noticed the shooting star, it's pale tail almost invisible against the afternoon sky. Matteo knew instantly that this was his opportunity for an unexpected wish and ceased his industrious mastication and thought about his dead father. In his mind's eye, he wished his father was alive again; specifically, that the man known as Antonio Severino would come back from wherever he went after he passed away, dressed as he had always dressed when he'd come home to his loving son - a stained white shirt under stained mechanic's coveralls, reeking of oil and sweaty adoration.

What Matteo could not have been aware of, what he could not possibly have known, was that the shooting star was not, in fact, a shooting star, but a device of miraculous contrivance, older than the oldest thing on earth. It heard the young boy's silent wish as it fell helplessly into the embrace of unwanted gravity and responded as it only knew how - by granting desire and making the impossible come true.

The last thing Matteo Crisostomo saw, before the tree that supported the branch that supported the swing that supported him gave way to a sudden earthquake, was the image of his father, standing in tears in his soiled clothes, extending his muscular arms in a moment of sheer bewilderment and utter disbelief.

Then the tree fell on the young boy and his father, the newly-resurrected Antonio Severino, was swallowed by the earth once more as the falling machine continued on its inexorable path two provinces and a dried-up lake to the north, to the ill-kept backyard of Alejandro Santos, aged 27, known ladies' man, never-do-well and suspected leftist rebel.
vignette: suit

So there’s this man, right? So he goes to work, you know, just like any other day, wake up, wake up, brush your teeth and do the bumble shake, you know what I’m saying? Traffic is shit or traffic’s okay, it doesn’t matter because nothing really changes, it’s like that. So he gets to work, right, and his mind is blank except for the damn elevator that, predictably, will stop one floor short of his. Okay. He takes the stairs, as usual, and gets to the office and it’s like no problem, right? Except that, except that his office isn’t there. I mean, there is an office there, but it isn’t the one he works at. It’s some kind of law firm, the one with eight surnames on the door sign. So he’s confused, right, who wouldn’t be, and looks at the floor number. It’s his floor, no doubt, but of course, there is doubt, and he’s like, the hell? He goes downstairs and looks at that floor’s number, and, sure enough, it’s the floor that should be the one below where he works. By this time he’s one sweaty-Betty, you know, the kind that ends up with rings around his armpits, but he doesn’t notice it because he has to get to work. He’s late, he’s late for the rest of his life, or something like that. So he goes up again and stares, just stares like a madman at the law office that suddenly squatted on his office space. He just stands there and stares. Other people come and go, passing by, going to the stairs or the law office or wherever. He doesn’t mind them, he’s completely into staring, just staring. Finally, and I mean, finally, he turns around, goes down the stairs, waits for the elevator to take him down to the basement where he parked his car. He doesn’t ask the guards or the administration what the fuck happened. No, he gets in and drives home. He just drives home, you know what I'm saying?
review: the laramie project

Nikki and I were so moved, so affected by this film that we spent over an hour talking about it, about its theme and human complexity.

It served as a mirror and made us consider our own opinions and thoughts on hate and homosexuality, and how we ourselves are reflected in the characters of the film. I needed to talk about my own ignorance and prejudices, and somehow either rationalize or throw them away in revulsion. It moved me to unabashed tears, made me laugh and made me think.

For being able to move and provoke thought, as well as being well-written, directed, staged and acted, this film officially enters my Top Ten Films of all time. My jaded nature is difficult to impress, and I am astounded that a mock documentary affected my wife and I so deeply.

Based on a play and over 200 interviews of the residents of Laramie, Wisconsin after the brutal murder of Matthew Shephard, a young gay man, The Laramie Project is a film worthy of the medium. It opened the 2002 Sundance Festival to deserved critical acclaim and gets my highest recommendation - my first 10 star rating since I began reviewing films in this blog.

final rating: the laramie project (2002)

********** (10/10)

Monday, April 28, 2003

fresh from the quiapo pirates

I finally have a copy of The Pianist, which was awarded the Oscar for Director and Actor. I'm very curious to see the approach to this film, because of the subject matter.

The Laramie Project also looks promising, focusing on the events after the death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming (that it has Steve Buscemi is a major bonus).

And rounding things up is the disturbing Das Experiment, a German language film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, set in a prison.

I'd like to see what strikes me.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

informal workshop

My friends and I are helping each other improve our craft in writing, and one of the exercises we're doing is writing vignettes with certain elementary (in the sense of element) goals in mind. We all share a single sentence and go off and try to hit the mark. The results are certainly impressive and I wish I could post all of them here or better yet they could post theirs in their own blogs. Everyone was literally a revelation. Why? Because unlike artwork that is shown and passed around for comment, prose was rarely given the same consideration. Until now.

Jason is developing his voice for his preferred modes and I know that in the future something great will come, complete and defining.

Carl's lovely pieces mix a poet's sensibilities (see how multi-talented he is - he should be taxed or something).

Marco is a gifted storyteller, not just in his comics, but in prose as well.

Vin's work shows that there there is yet hope for the epic.

And Nikki, well, the craft is so well-developed I actually have to think of nasty things to say.

And I feel young and intelligent again, exposed to other writers who are currently writing, and writing well.

But we can all improve, because the bar is outrageously high (that's what you get when you ask me to critique). The goal is not some award or prize, the award is the improvement in writing, the prize is in the trying itself.
my life as a bed

Caving in to tremendous pressure (thanks to Marco and Jason), my best friend Vin finally started his own blog.

I am always happy when someone I know (versus, well, someone I don't know) starts a blog. Conversation is fine, wonderful, in fact, but when someone writes, it is a revelation, a new point of access, a new text provided. Nikki remains one of the tough holdouts, resisting Marco's marvelous suggestion for her blog's title: As Snow As Blog.

So check it out. It's very fresh, just out of the womb, but already worth your while.

Welcome, Vin, to the Bloggers (Un)Anonymous!

literate babble is still babble

I found myself surprised when, in the midst of the Saturday night/Sunday morning talk with my friends about writing, I suddenly had the sense that not all of us at that table approached the craft of writing in the same way. For the longest time I have kept my own notions about the seriousness of writing to myself, believing that the writers I knew (like the writers I knew from my days when I ran with the literary folk, the critics and the wordsmiths) held notions similar to mine. Of course it is a given that there would be variances as per theory (do you subscribe to this line of thought or that mode of reasoning) but there would be the unspoken assumption that writers who talk about craft or literature all agree that literature - the writing, the thinking, the theories, the end of goal of contributing something to the grand body of work developed by all the wonderful writers who came before you and inspired you or moved you - was important.

Important enough to agonize over, important enough to wrestle with, argue about, discuss into the wee hours of the morning over coffee or beer or whatever preferred poison. Important enough to talk about.

My epiphany was this: perhaps announcements should be made, like a dinner menu, and given ahead of time to everyone, so people can determine whether or not it is a conversation they'd care to participate in - or care about at all. Honestly, if such a scenario were possible, I myself could avoid all evenings with talk devoted to topics that fail to arouse me on whatever level and I could just stay home and play with Sage instead of being bored to tears. Similarly, if a menu informed me that no hifallutin talk was permitted, then I could just as easily shift to whatever topic was preferred, on demand. Everything safe, familiar, non-challenging, pleasant and convivial - same old, same old.

The tragic thing, for me, is the fact that I firmly believe in the importance of writing, in literature, in its primacy over other forms of entertainment. To realize that it is not case (where I wrongfully assumed it was) was just...sad. The error, of course, was on my part. Perhaps certain topics of conversation should remain dialogues (between two people) instead of table talk. The insurmountable truth, however, is that a dinner menu of conversation topics does not exist, and we all have to make do with whatever we have with whoever we're with whenever we are.

In the end, I respect whatever reason whichever writer espouses as his reason to write. But I'd rather not waste my time and thought talking to someone for whom theory is just babble and critical thinking, a waste of life.

And lest this little rumination trigger a hue and an outcry, no, nothing happened. The evening was fine, very enjoyable.

It's all in my head.
comic reviews

New stuff over the weekend (some of the books I ordered came unexpectedly early):

Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah #2 by Carlo Vergara - Dig up your copy of issue #1. Read and enjoy it. Then break out your copy of the new (and concluding) 70+ pages issue and marvel with me at the sheer inventiveness, freshness and elan of Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah. A wonderful complete story arc, Filipino but crafted well enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of world comics. But do not be misled by your enjoyment - this is no superficial read. Under the veneer of comedy and action are reflections about love, friendship, gender issues and what it means to be a hero. Go and get a copy at Comic Quest (and other distribution points as the rollout commences).

Sparks by Lawrence Marvit - An Eisner-nominated, telephone directory-thick ($36) meditation on self-esteem, the search for love and validation, and growing up, told through the device of a 20 year-old girl and a junkyard robot with a human heart. This is a beautiful (albeit flawed) creation, deserving of the accolades it garnered. This is Andi Watson done with no self-awareness, little conceit and best of all, honesty. It is difficult to write about love and hope without falling into the pit of preciosity. This does not. Well worth the astronomical price tag.

30 Days of Night by Steve Niles - Outstanding art, good concept, poor execution. Yes, this is the book that triggered a Hollywood bidding war for movie rights (closing at $1M). It's as if the author fell in love with the concept but didn't know how to tell the tale. Still, in strict idea terms, it's a gem. Too bad it sucked as a story.

Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menance by Jason Hall & Matt Kindt - Like the previous volume by the same creative team, this book is a challenge to read, and does not stoop to entertain little minds. For that, and the manner of execution, I respect this book. It's a keeper.

Creature Tech by Doug Tennapel - By far, this is the book I enjoyed the most. A clear yet surprising story with a structure that works, dialogue that sounds right and a tempo that maintains a balance between quiet and loud moments. In certain aspects, it is reminiscent of the best of Mignola's work in Hellboy and The Amazing Screw-on Head - that ability to tell a story with words and art that move, provoke and entertain. Excellent.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

gluttony, thy name is dean

Having successfully completed a series of projects for a client, Pipe's creative team assigned to projects was invited (by the lovely May) to pig out at Trinity, along the Dampa.

The Dampa is a wet market where fresh seafood of all sorts can be bought. Trinity, one of the resutarants there, then cooks it in whatever way you request (steamed, buttered, fried, whatever). The enormous volume of food (you order by the kilo) is enough to make any glutton clap his hands with delight.

True to form, I prepared by not eating breakfast - and succeeded in eating myself into a near faint.

Yes, Virginia, sometimes you have to say "screw the waistline".

literature of knowledge and the literature of power

I was very happy when so many of writer and artist friends joined in the mini-"workshop" I find myself conducting for writing. Again, a disclaimer: I am in no way saying that my way is right, blah blah blah. Now back to the point.

It is interesting to acutally find myself in the mood to dust off the little literary criticism I've picked up over the years (which I've ended up couching in my own terminology because it is easier for me to understand and remember - but the core is the same, to the degree that I agree with whichever given mode of thought). I need to do so to be able to explain certain points about writing.

I believe in the combination of theory and practice as the means to improve one's writing. Theory because you need to know what you're doing (it is an ill-informed writer who does not understand the metalanguage of his craft - which is supposedly something he loves to do), and practice because head knowledge does not equate to good writing (and of course we're talking about literature - what's the difference? "Silas Marner" is literature, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is not - and yes, it is okay to aspire to writing something of literary merit without the fear of being accused of pretension.)

We, as authors, need to seek improvement in terms of effective and powerful writing.

I subscribe to Thomas de Quincey's distinction between the literature of knowledge and the literature of power. To paraphrase, the purpose of the literature of knowledge is to teach; the function of the literature of power is to move. The first is like a rudder, the second is like an oar or a sail. The first appeals to discursive understanding, the second to the higher understanding or reason. An encyclopedia instructs in a didactic manner, but a great play or story moves by appealing simultaneously to the emotions and the intellect, also teaching but in a totally different way.

We need to move away from the pedestrian and yearn to create something that moves.

And it all begins with the fundamentals.

Friday, April 25, 2003

sentence exercise: description

Playing chess frightened her. When I sat down with her for a quick game, she visibly trembled, focusing her dull brown eyes on the white pieces on her side. I didn't understand then what the game meant to her, but I knew two things: that it disturbed her, and that it didn't matter to me.

I watched her delicately pick up a Knight between thumb and forefinger, her fingers long like her mother's, her nails disinterestedly squared, void of color, like mine.

She retreated her arm back in an almost epileptic motion after her opening move. Our eyes met as she sought my approval. I looked at her Knight, thoughtlessly placed, and shook my head.

"How stupid."

Her response was immediate and predictable. Her thin frame froze in mid-breath, only her fingers moved, picking away at the fraying kneecaps of her jeans. And then, the expulsion of breath.

"I'm sorry, Papa."

I left her apology suspended in the air as I moved a pawn to threaten her Knight.

"I'm sorry, Papa."

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking down Annapolis St towards EDSA to get a ride home. Annapolis gets quite congested, given the number of restaurants and offices that dot its length.

Along a particularly narrow area, I had to walk onto the street itself because the sidewalk was occupied by some parked cars. I checked to see if it was safe and it appeared to be so - the closest vehicle opposite me, an incoming SUV, was a good distance away. I thought that it would maintain its slow speed because of the tight spot it was about to enter.

It sped up just as I was in the most vulnerable spot, a parked car to my left and the road to the right. I was alerted to the danger by the sound of the vehicle's engine. When I looked again to decide what to do, it was a split second away from me. Without thinking, I flattened myself against the car next to me and averted my face.

I felt the side mirror of the SUV strike my chest. No slow-mo, no bullet time, just the unyielding push of an object against me as I expelled breath to be as flat as I could.

It happened to fast I had no time to curse, react or do anything apart from think "Oh fuck."

It was over in moments and I walked onward as if nothing happened (I think I immediately wanted the world back to normal instead of my usual impulse of running after the vehicle and smashing the driver's face in - I didn't even give it a backward glance, so strange). However, my legs felt like jelly and my body was shaking with a chemical cocktail that was at once both exhilirating and unpleasant.

I'm just glad to be in one piece.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

vignette: face

They could not remove the face in the glass without destroying or replacing the window completely. Despite their best efforts, scrubbing, washing, scratching, the image remained where it was, a frozen expression of forbidding dourness, and so the entire family proceeded to pretend it did not exist.

All except Sonia, ever sensitive, who asked her mother if the face in the kitchen window pane belonged to someone.

“What face?” her mother replied, continuing to apply Oil of Olay on every exposed extremity.

Sonia thought for a moment that her mother, like all adults she knew, had betrayed her, feigning blindness to something so apparently visible. She decided instead that the face in the glass was selectively invisible. That assumption kept her mother securely on her side and preserved the objective reality of the image.

One evening, Sonia climbed down the stairs, hurried across the cold living room floor in her bare feet, and pulled a chair in the kitchen to look at the face again.

It was certainly no one she recognized, and in her seven years of existence she was convinced she could identify all the people who had crossed into her life, from the swollen infant in the bassinette next to her in hospital nursery to the woman in the pale blue Camry who stopped in front of their house yesterday, asking for directions.

The face had furrowed brows, slit for eyes and four visible teeth.

At that moment, Sonia realized that it belonged to none other than Nanay Nena, her grandmother’s grandmother’s mother, whom she had never met but recalled from a story her grandmother told her before she died of a tragic explosive sneeze.
structure versus narrative flow

Think about it in terms of building a mall.

You create the floor plan, set up your retail outlets, food court, comfort rooms, theaters and so on. You also make plans for how you intend the traffic to flow - placing elevators here, escalators there, and so on.

When you open the mall to the public though, traffic determines its own course. People may eschew your elevator and take the stairs or not find a store or avoid a floor or just hang out in an unintended place you did not plan for. Or it may work perfectly, with traffic moving in, through and out with satisfying precision.

When I think about structure in terms of writing, I think about the general architecture, which includes elements like just what form it will take within the context of the story's demands. That should determine the flow but sometimes it doesn't (writing is like that, sometimes what is predictable refuses to behave - or you exercise will to alter its predictable behavior).

When I consider how I will work in terms of the narrative flow, I do the equivalent of a "soft opening", see if the flow I had in mind reaches the places in the structure I want to reach. If it doesn't, then I tinker either with the flow (easier) or the architecture (disheartening). Easier with the flow because it becomes a matter of trying out variations. Disheartening with the architecture because its more fundamental and supposedly you made a right call. Whatever.

Normally though, the structure (if well-planned) takes care of the flow, unless you deliberately wangle with the flow for effect or to move your agenda.

halflife of a balloon

Nikki got Sage one of these double balloons (you know, one within the other). We gave it to her this morning and she started playing with it, beginning by looking at it with glee, then moving on to waving it around and thumping it on everything - the bed, the floor, her mother's face, everything.

And like many things in life, balloon plus baby equals tragedy.

The other balloon pops and my daughter's furrowed brow is priceless, as if to say "Oh. Well. So that's that then. ", her commentary at the transient nature of things.

She still has the ultramarine inner balloon though, which she handed to me perhaps for safekeeping, or out of respect for the sanctity of life.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

codename: sunburn

Finally got the basic outline from Vin, so I can formally begin writing the thing. We're looking at around 130 pages, illustrated by one of our dearest and talented friends (do the initials A.A. mean anything to you?), published next year.

So in the spirit of transparency, I'll do my best to share bits and pieces of my writing process here, without revealing too much (let's see how that holds up).

Preliminary steps:

1. Review the plot, characters, setting, metaphor and logic. (And listen to a 50 year-old song)

2. Apply harsh razor and remove what is unnecessary, masturbatory and precious

3. Formalize the structure (right now I'm thinking of intertwined vignettes)

4. Decide on the tone and feel

5. Determine the general narrative flow

After that, the real work begins.


A 5 year-old child fell from the Shaw Tower high-rise today.

When I heard the news, my heart broke for the staggering loss of life and all the painful nights her parents have ahead of them.

I cannot begin to imagine how Nikki and I would cope with something like that.

I just can't.

But insanely, cruely, inappropiately, the writer in me is trying to put together words.

flesh for fantasy

Over merienda with Cams, Carl and the rest of my staff, I got to thinking. If I weren’t engaged in my current business, had no artsy-fartsy creative whathaveyou to occupy my mind, had no little girl, had full support of my wife, and gave in to my deepest,darkest hedonistic side, I’d do 4 things.

one: Muse

I’d be a pimp. I’d organize an escort service with a small number of boobsy and strikingly intelligent young women with a certain “hotcha” (recruiting from the Viva Hot Babes, Gee Girls or the colleges girls with attitude. I’d have a phone number (and maybe a website) and would use an outsource model. Naturally, I’d be a pimp with a golden heart, conferring partner status to my girls, with profit-sharing. We’d target high-level officials, church figures and the entertainment industry.

My girls would be smart enough to hold their own on any number of sensible conversations (I’d make them read a lot) and they have to pass a certain wit scale, speak excellent English and not have any angst issues. (Hee hee - I just imagined Nikki in a mama-san role, complete with Chinese collar dress and freaky red nails, smoking a handrolled cigarette and being nasty to the new girl).

two: Phantasmagoria

I’d set up a snazzy strip joint/bar with various fleshly gimmicks and high-end marketing ploys. No sex on the premises but the bar fine will be within reach of my wealthy patrons (which include the various government and police authorities that we have to bribe). Everything tasteful except after a certain hour when blacklit performances and audience tours take over. On certain nights, to help cash flow, I’ll create “Orgiasta”, where both male and female performers do nasty and wonderful things onstage.

three: Fontana

I’d build a massage clinic with adjacent baths of different styles (Roman, Turkish, Finnish and fine, American Indian). “Happy Endings” are part of the service and tip is more than appreciated. In addition, I’d have a café, restaurant, gym, mini DVD theatre and bookstore. Very expensive to enter, but you’ll spend the entire day in bliss.

four: Pene

Finally, I’d build a series of low-end no-frills motels, just for sex. No namby-pamby positioning, no coy marketing.

Yes. Yes, I would.

That's what an idle mind and oppressive summer heat get you.
teka, nahihilo ako

Masyadong mainit. Nararamdaman ko ang singaw ng aking katawan - hindi kaya ng pawis gawing malumay, hindi kaya ng aircon palamigin ang buong opisina.

Sa labas, nakakasilaw ang liwanag. Inuupakan ng araw ang sinomang magkamaling lumabas at magtaghoy.

Hindi nakakatuwa.

Sana umulan. Kahit hindi bagyo. Basta umulan.

Paano ako makakaraos sa tag-init?

talking writing

Last night, Jason and I spent time editing a manuscript and talking about writing. We began at Angelino’s (which closed) then moved to Brewer’s (whose vocalists had a wonderful rendition of One Note Samba).

Before we knew it, it was past midnight.

Conversations about writing always engage me. Not because I think I have something to teach, but because I enjoy thinking about writing as much as I enjoy actually writing.

It is never a matter of inspiration then plugging away at a processor. For me there is an internal intellectual process that goes hand-in-hand with the inexplicable, the intuitive, the so-called “genius”. It is important for me to understand what I am doing, why I am doing it, who I am doing it for, how I will do it and in what form it will be completed. Talent provides the spark and the oomph, but it is technique that gets you through.

My relentless internal critic is difficult to assuage. I wish I could just hand him a cigarette and tell him to wait until the final final final work is done, then bash it to bits. But every point in my process is exposed to my internal critic, and it does not hamper me. If you think about it like a chocolate candy production line, I have a masked lady who watches over the conveyor belt and removes sweets that do not pass a certain standard.

I am most brutal with myself, of course.

Here’s one of my rules as a writer: Do not fall in love with yourself or your writing. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that your talent is enough.

There is no way for your internal critic to help you grow if it is reduced to token appearances and blind praise. You need to know when what you’ve labored for over the span of hours or months is drivel. You need to know when you’ve taken the easy route, whipping your dick out and jacking off for your readers – please please stop it. You need to know when there is a salvageable kernel of beauty somewhere in the dross. You need to know when to shoot yourself in the head and when to smile and say “Shit, that fucking works.” You need to be harshest with yourself – because unless you find an honest, competent judge of your writing, you need to take the opinions of your circle of friends and readers with a cargo ship of salt.

And you need to be able to describe what you do and why you do it. You should be able to think about writing, your writing, someone else’s writing. You are a writer, after all, so certainly you have no lack of words.

You do not need to have have been published to think about writing (though to certain people, you need those credentials), but make certain that you have firm grounding and sound fundamentals.

You do not need to have won an armful of awards to talk about writing (though to some, you need to be covered in glory to even begin talking about cratf), though make sure that what you opine has constructive value.

You do not need to have won a Fellowship at UP or Silliman to be a serious writer (though you could be snubbed by elite writerly circles), instead, set your standards high and keep exceeding them.

What you need to do is to read. Learn. Critique. And write like there's no tomorrow.

Work at it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

talking comics

I had a pleasant surprise this afternoon when El and Charles dropped by the Pipe office with copies of Grafic destined for ComicQuest.

They gave me copies of Andrew Drilon's Subwhere and The Germinator, both of which I look forward to reading (remember that this is the same guy who did that interesting short story, White, that I enjoyed).

We talked quite a bit, but you know how these conversations go - you want more time to discuss things.

Perhaps sometime we can all have coffee.

vignette: staccato

We ran for the gates as soon as the headmistress turned down the corridor, throwing caution to the wind. All that mattered was the promise of freedom, the glorious blaze of sunshine pledged by the outside world.

ZEPI (flails her arms)
Whee! Whee!

ANNA (pants)
Zepi, hush! Someone might-

ZEPI (laughs)
No one will!

Oh, Zepi.

Once out of the academy, we ran for the hills, the woods, the trees and leaves and roots and twigs, the furry green grass that went past our socks, the scent of summer that invaded our senses.

Wait, wait. Let’s, let’s stop a while.

Anna, no! This is only the beginning of forever! Look, look over there!

What’s over there?

We’ll be over there. Come on!

And we ran again like bullets fired from a trembling handgun, laughing and shrieking like the girls that we were. I lost a shoe but thought nothing of it. What matters the loss of a shoe?

ZEPI (makes a face)
Boohoo. Here, I’ll lose one too.

Silly, silly.

ZEPI (stops)
Here we are, Anna.

Yes, here we are, Zepi.

In that moment of moments, we held hands and drew in everything around us, through our eyes, noses and lips, ears and skin. It was as if the universe was remade and consisted only of us. Everything was ours.

ANNA (looks at ZEPI)

ZEPI (looks at ANNA)

I love you.

I know.

Do you love me?

Of course, silly.

(ANNA leans over and kisses ZEPI on the lips. ZEPI draws back, places her fingers against ANNA’s mouth.)

What, what was that?




And at the moment, the world around us suspended and emptied itself out. Words flew in no direction and I vanished, lost in the dust of my crumbling heart.

(They kiss again.)

We were fifteen.

ad astra per aspera

There is that odd place between finishing writing things and starting new ones when there exists a kind of temporary peace.

It is a peace hard-won and transient, for while you pause to catch breath and just rest, you know that at any moment the ideas will come again, sometimes announcing themselves like lightning in the distance, sometimes rushing to engulf you in a glorious embrace, sometimes buzzing around like a refractory mosquito.

At the place outside and between endings and beginnings, I’ve noticed that the stars are brighter and somewhat closer. It is an illusion, of course. After all, I am still in my room, on my bed, drenched in sweat that the warm air does not nothing to relieve.

But I can see them so clearly, bereft of any obscuring clouds.

And I resign myself to the fact that I must try to reach them, for beauty cannot go undisturbed and undisturbing.

I listen to an idea (its scratchy voice interrupted by explosive guffaws), empty my head and begin writing. Soon, other ideas come, drawn to my open helplessness, rushing to fill in the nooks and crannies of my head – caterwauling, singing, gesticulating, fucking, praying, in a cascade of blurs that is too dangerous to watch all at once.

And through the cacophony, I look up and see my never-changing goals, twinkling in a tremendous sky.

Through my fingers, a piece of peace.

Through my endeavors, the stars.

Monday, April 21, 2003

eschew reportage

Sometimes, I have to be reminded that what I have here is a journal, not a daily activity report.

Screw concerns about vulnerability. A coy blog is not worth writing, and definitely not worth reading.

keeping it together

I just came back from my blog wanderings in voyeur mode and found myself engrossed with the last one because I so identified with it. Now I don’t know if it is a meme or what, but several journals I read all shared the same theme: railing against time and circumstance – in a few cases, dreading the harbinger of old(er) age.

What struck me most was one author’s candid ire and desperation. He felt he wanted to be something before he turned 30, and shook his head at the inevitable comparisons he drew with his contemporaries. Now this is no slothful or untalented man; obviously he’s had his share of successes, but what he felt he failed to do was to make a dent – whatever that dent is.

He then asks just what is he supposed to do? How come no one taught him about that part of life? Where are the guidebooks, the marked maps, the secret codes?

Questions I know young people can barely construct, embraced by the tenderness of a sheltered life with their parents, uncovering the rules of love and heartache, determining their identity and preferences.

instant identification

I asked myself the very same questions a few years back, and every year around my birthday I find myself wallowing in the same mire of self-absorption. I remember the first time the equivalent of a mid-life crisis struck me with full force. I took a good long analytical look at myself and stripped myself of my illusions.

What did I have?

nothing to hold

Nothing to speak of in material terms. Money came and went in the throes of moments that did not look too far into the future. I never purchased anything like stocks or insurance, did not invest in other people’s businesses – I did not consider myself knowledgable enough to do any of that. I had given up my car and did not own my own place to live. My bank account echoed the rhythm of the tides, month in and month out.

nothing to be proud of

I had more in terms of achievements, but all of that, I felt, was pale comfort. I could not eat my awards for things written in times of focused passion. The beauty of my short stories published here and there was no hedge against the need to pay the rent, the grocery bill, the utilities. Besides, I had mistakenly stopped writing when everything seemed too simple. I erred in thinking that there were no challenges and left the arena, disdaining the accolades and sycophants who wished me well.

something to fight for

The only thing that kept me going was my love for my wife. I refused to see her in any kind of need or distress, such that I took jobs that I realized much later were beneath my level, just to have cash. The reason my work was simple was because I was too intelligent for it. The same reason I was ultimately rendered inutile by sheer ennui. I could those things in my sleep, and often did, a somnambulist ekeing out a living.

So at that time, we lived as we wanted and lacked for nothing inasmuch as our needs were under control (a condo unit, books, comics, games, eating out). But at night I would be wracked by stunningly fundamental questions.

Where was the guidebook?

Isn’t anyone going to tell me how to do things?

Am I truly to be left to own devices for the rest of my life?

jumping with my eyes open

I never had a glorious epiphany, the kind that happens to murderers on their way to Damascus. Instead, I slowly accepted the results of my analysis. That there were no answers, no teachers, no guidebooks, no maps. That my job led to nowhere more promising than a dead-end. That the only person who could begin to create solutions for my personal circumstances was myself.

So I decided to jump away from the relative comfort of false stability. I quit my job (and immediately missed the regular paychecks) and went to market. The only thing I had for sale was myself – my writer core plus all the odds and ends I acquired through the years. I’ve always believed in my ability to do something I put my mind to. To my shocked delight, so did others. They called my odds and ends “skill sets” and told me that my market value was easily 5 times my previous salary.

fast forward

Today I have my own business (and still shake my head at the notion of myself as a businessman – what writer-type person becomes a businessman?) doing something that challenges my mind on a regular basis. I do not consider myself a success by a long shot, but my circumstances are significantly improved from several years ago. I know how easily wheels turn but this time have provided alternatives.

I’ve begun writing again, publishing once in a while, collaborating with people whose minds and talents push me to either hold up my own or withdraw in shame. And I'd sooner die than not try.

But once in a while, I still ask the same questions that haunt me. I think that I shall never stop asking them for as long as I can draw breath, despite the fact that the answers never change.

Where do I make a dent? How do I make a dent?

Do I have to make a dent?

a little bit of something is better
than a whole lot of nothing

In the end, it is the asking that matters. Going on despite the lack of closure, knowing that everything, sadly, must end in tears. It means striving today for a little extra comfort tomorrow. It means making sure that my little girl grows up in the best possible environment within our means. It means working towards a degree of creative achievement on my own terms, not for awards or my friends' applause, but for my inner spirit that rests only when it has given up all its words.

It means accepting the fact that dent or no dent, life must be lived.

So is there a lesson in all this soulsearching?

I don't know.

You should know better than to ask a man who has no answers, but only tentative solutions for everyday existence.
notarize me

Visited four law offices today before I finally found one that would notarize the documents I needed. The irksome thing is cost of service (why, along Buendia I could have gotten it for 1/6th the charge) but then again these people do have to pay rent for their snazzy offices.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Alfar," one of the receptionists said. "All of our lawyers are in court."

"That's all right," I smiled. "Why don't you just sign this and put the documentary stamp."

"Oh, I can't do that, sir!"

"Why not?"

"I'm not a lawyer!"

"I'll never tell."

But she firmly rebuffed my smiling plea. Good for her.

All these documents. I open my bag and stare at the copies of my lease, the notarized checks I issued, my life insurance policy, my CTC, my income tax papers.

When did I suddenly become an old man?

Well, at least I've sent the stuff that I wanted to send. The rest is up to our charmingly fickle universe.
urbi et orbi

Naturally it takes me forever to fall asleep so I wake up feeling like Gavroche in Les Miz, except that I didn't feel like breaking into song. Poor Sage (wearing her Easter headdress thingie and looking so adorable) didn't want me to go, giving me the teary-eyed waif tactic. Broke my heart to flee from my daughter's embrace.

Downstairs the ciggie place had no ciggies, which is tantamount to telling me that all breathable atmosphere in the ecopshere has just vanished. Apparently, the other post-Easter smokers needed their fix too. Reeling in dismay, I do a quick scrouge around the block and find my cancer sticks, fighting another man for the right of first puchase. I cruelly bought the entire stock, depriving the nasty-looking man of his nicotine. Why? Because he jostled me. And the venal vendor did not help matters when she asked if I wanted to buy her entire stock of 4 packs.

Everyone wanted a cab but I had none of that crap and switched to New Yorker mode since I wanted to get to my office on time. En route, I made a phone call to follow up collection for professional fees and got a run-around. The person on the other line insisted that he had promised to turn over payment by the end of the month, which is certainly what not I recall. Gah. I really abominate collection and will do my utmost to delegate that responsibility. Its just that I don't see why I can't make the phone call myself.

At the office, I learn that my office manager is in the hospital. The phone rings and I find out that my other big project has been delayed a week (and a week's delay means a three weeks delayed payment), but something I thought was inactive is suddenly active. Our other projects seem to be on schedule - though that can change at any moment.

And here I am back in the stressful mode of running the show and making sure we do our jobs well - and get remuneration.

On the lighter side, it seems my staff had great fun in their various escapades. Someone dated Miko Immonen, someone went to La Union and Baguio City, someone devoted their entire week to God.

Me? I'm just glad to be busy again.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

dogged writing

Ah, the perils of multi-tasking.

There are times I wish I could split myself and get more done, instead of running around like a dog.

The thing is, I need to consolidate everything since I have stuff scattered on both my home and office computers. Sounds simple until I run into all the versions and odd titles I created (plus the gall of Word to ask if it can merge versions together).

Codename: Sunburn- Waiting for final outline from collaborator. Once that is in, I can begin scripting. You know who you are, Mr. Collaborator. The challenge here for me is the genre, definitely not one of my favored ones. It stands to reason though, that a story well-told transcends genre classification, and everything else becomes cosmetic trappings. We'll see if I'm correct or if there are certain elements that I cannot do without.

Codename: Too Many Characters - I'll be writing the prologue and the first short story as soon as I get a better grasp of what's going on here. The challenge here is handling the cast of thousands in a finite number of pages. The solution is to focus on a few and relegate the rest to amusing eye candy since there will be opportunities for additional stories in the future anyway.

Codename: War Sucks - I need a go signal from my creative producer on this since the war in the Middle East has passed a certain point (though there are warning bells about Syria and North Korea). If it is still a yes, then a short form text riddled with not-so-subtle political agenda can be produced in a reasonable time.

Codename: Technovision- Finished early this morning. I just need to be able to stand back and edit objectively. I think it's good. If it does what I hope it does, then I can lay certain suspicions to rest.

Codename: Butcher - Also finished. I have decided to go with how I originally envisioned it to told. Damn the torpedoes.

Codename: Exposure- Finished. I like the rhythm and have decided to peg on a little appeal to relevance. Heh.

Codename: Ewan - Finished but will most likely rewrite en toto.

Codename: Heaven - Argh. I think I may have to shelve this one since it refuses to be written. I have around 1/4 of it, and does look inviting, but the rest of story thinks it has SARS and has quarantined itself.

Codename: Rice - 5 pages in. Surprisingly, those are 5 middle pages. For once, I actually do not have a clear beginning or an ending.

Codename: A1 - I'll look into the business side first, getting quotes tomorrow to see if it is viable. If the cost seems reasonable, then I look for financing. If it still looks positive, then I'll formally invite the creative teams.

Codename: Earthsea - Initial payment is scheduled to come in, so we can begin writing. If all goes according to plan, I'll need to commission the covers and spot illustrations earlier.

And apart from all of that, there's regular work which picks up tomorrow.

I need a vacation - again.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

better luck tomorrow

A new film that is slowly making its way around festivals and certain US cities (and has gotten me curious to see it) is Better Luck Tomorrow. An Asian cast headlines the show - but its nobody you've heard of. The amazing thing is the support this film has gotten from the Asian communities. Costing around $250k to produce, it has already made $400k, which is nowhere near Hollywood levels but great for a small film. The guerilla marketing the actors, director and producers have undertaken seems to work (basically sending out massive emails to Asians in various cities to support the film) to the extent that 60% of tickets sales are Asian purchases.

But is the film good? The critics seem to think so. I'd like to view it to make a judgement myself.

review: talk to her

Like I just did with Almodovar's Talk To Her.

I struggled with this film, alternately irked by the transparency of certain segments and the outright manipulative elements in others. Ultimately though, it is a technically sound film, and the writing redeems itself somewhere along the line when it ceases to be self-conscious and stops trying too hard.

I cannot help but unfairly compare it Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien, which was better written and better shot. But still, on its own merits, Talk To Her works.

Its just that it is not a movie I'd kill to watch again, with the buzz surrounding the film more entertaining than the film itself. The screenwriting Oscar should have gone to someone else (apologies, Senor Pedro).

Final Rating

Talk To Her - ******* (of 10)

vignette: crezan

"Jumbula," Crezan mouthed silently, extending his hand slowly to the quivering cannibal.

"Don't bother, lad," Dr. Alquon sniffed, pointing his gilden arquebus at the savage's head. "Sometimes people are better off dead."
the best part of coming home

Fun is fun, but when you're a parent, you cannot wait to get home.

Sage has been amazing. She has a new arms a-kimbo pose that gets me laughing, and she's taken to wearing my shorts as a veil, in the manner of old church-going women.

Nikki and I got her a new head/bandanna thing for Easter and we hope she'll like it.

Last night with our friends, this question popped up: If you found out that your child was completely void of talent, would you give your own talents up so she can have it/them (of course you need to asume that such transferrance is possible). Once you give up her talent/s, you can never write/draw/create ever again.

You know what? Nikki and I would.

The only depressing thing is this ongoing epiphany that one day when she is all grown up, our importance to her will diminish in favor of someone else. But that is the way of things, right?

Maybe so, and I may be a fool for feeling melancholic for something in the distant but inevitable future, but this is the little girl that showed me that measure of love in heart was nowhere as small as I imagined. Or as big.

One of things that occupied our group's time at hotel, before the sauna, the swimming, the cooking, the eating, the DVDs and whatnot, was figuring out our Enneagrams.

The Enneagram is one of the newest personality systems in use, and emphasizes psychological motivations. Its earliest origins are not completely clear - the circular symbol may have originated in ancient Sufi traditions, and was used by the esoteric teacher George Gurdjieff (1866-1949). The Enneagram personality types as they are most commonly known today originated more recently, with Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. In the last few decades, the system has undergone further change, incorporating modern psychological ideas in the writings of Naranjo, Helen Palmer, Kathy Hurley/Theodorre Donsson, and Don Riso/Russ Hudson.

Apparently, there are a lot of different terms, but we enjoyed the descriptions of the book we had. It was scored multiple direct hits and managed to box us all in one of the nine types. Nikki is the Observer, analytical and detached. Carl is the Questioner, cautious of himself and his circumstances. Vin, naturally, is the Peacemaker, mediating and meandering. Jason is the Achiever, for whom logic and work are important. Cams is the Helper, giving of herself to others. Flim, like Marco, is the Adventurer, amused by the world and things in it. And I, sigh, am the Asserter, the loudmouth leader type.

Systems like this never fail to amuse (like horoscopes and Chinese birthsigns) because we all like to hear other people tell us who or what we are. The flaw is the rather simplistic way of dividing the entire living and dead population of the earth into 9 types, but the trick is just to enjoy the silliness.

Friday, April 18, 2003

holy decadence

Vin swung over and picked Nikki and myself up and we checked in a nearby hotel to treat ourselves to a little R&R. The rest of humanity was at the provinces and we created our own escape. Carl and Flim joined us and we had a blast with another long-winded exchange of philosophical ideas about the nature of private worlds (and how these constructs ultimately keep us alive), which led to a sudden wonderful idea about a new comic book involving all of us. It is still at the idea stage, but all I can say is that its going to big - assuming I get the cost under control. We spoke about writing and film and how these were so ingrained in our lives.

Jason and Cams arrived with more food and we all hied over to the pools, both indoor, and one hotter than the other. The boys went to the sauna for some sweaty male bonding before we all trooped back to the suite to start cooking. Lots of great conversations, cigarettes and chow later, we started gaming, picking up on the last storyline I created.

The thing about the kind of games of I run is that the rules are the last thing on my mind - story is king. And together we told a heartbreaking tale of surprising depth with tears and laughter coming and going, leaving a resonance of things to consider.

Finally, at the oddest morning hour, Nikki and I returned home to crash. Today, we plan to visit our friends again and continue the conversations.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

film fun

Just saw the trailer of Chow Yun Fat's new film, Bulletproof Monk. (The curious thing about this thing is that the pirated DVD has been available in Quiapo for a couple of months.)

While it seems to be nowhere like Crouching Tiger or even Hero, it looks like fun.

Hmmm. Must get preview tickets from Cams.

Meanwhile, I got the chance to view some of the DVD goodies I hoarded.

The new version of Cinema Paradiso was incredible. It is just amazing to see how much the film has to offer. I found myself mesmerized all over again.

The DVD of Y Tu Mama Tambien was also great, and I really liked all the add-ons. It's really hard to believe that the Philippines cannot produce anything of this caliber, given the all the similarities of our cultural and economic conditions.
fashion week

We took two CDs worth of shots during the recently held Fashion Week spectacle featuring Levis (that's Brand Leader Steve Romasanta next to me), all digital and immediately downloaded into a portable drive. Such a far cry from a photographer's vest bulging with film rolls.

It was quite a show, with 100 models (no repeats) strutting their stuff in 4 interpretative segments by some of the more interesting fashion designers in town. Studio 23 has the broadcast rights and I think they'll air it in a couple of weeks.

The stunning thing is that the budget for something like this is profoundly high, which is understandable given all the elements required plus the venue (Ayala Center).

Of course, Marc and I now want to do a fashion show, preferably with some of the hot things around, ha ha ha.

For some of our pics (thanks to lensman Erik Liongorin - Marc and I just played support with our inferior digicams), go here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

legio ora redux

Vin and I will be collaborating on a series of short stories based on a series of concepts on time we developed 10 years ago.

In yet another case of serendipity, he unearthed the original "concept paper" I wrote on Wordstar version god-knows-what.

Looking at the material was odd, like looking at myself. So much hope and ambition, enough to make me wince.

But still, it should be fun, though daunting. Again, it is a matter of getting the material to behave in a new context while maintaining the stuff that made it interesting in the first place.

We'll see.
reading and writing

On our trip to New York last October, Nikki and I picked up a small pile of books from the various book vendors we visited. Apart from finally getting stuff from the list of books we wanted, we also found several other good things to read, thanks to the principles of serendipity.

One of these is Michael Chabon's Summerland (you know, of course, that he won the Pulitizer for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay). As one of my new favorite short story and novel writers, he manages a near impossible feat - getting me to read about baseball (like The Golem's Mighty Swing did). Of course, it has elements of the fantastic like the Fey Realm and a great Evil, both of which, when done well, never fail to interest me.

This may be the only book I'll read over the break because I really need to catch up on my own writing. For all my verbosity about craft, the proof, in the end, is in the pudding, right?

I'm struggling with my Filipino language play right now. I know, I know, it's like forcing an anchor to swim, but dammit I have to try. Mewling and angsting about my inability may have some therapeutic use, but certainly nothing prevents me from at least trying (except the frustrating moments when I pause for long minutes desperately trying to think of the right word, and then pecking away doubtfully at my keyboard hoping to spell it correctly).

Apart from the language issue, I'm more in trouble with what the hell the damn play is about. I've actually finished it now, but managed to write something that says nothing at all, which, in a post-modern sense is actually fine, but really, the formalist in me is appalled at the lack of...something. I constructed it in a such a way that there seems to be dramatic tension over something but that something never happens (and not in any Godot sense, mind you).

So its rather peculiar.

I think what happened was that I was so focused on the language issue that I ended up in with this unsatisfactory thing. Between you and me, I am confident in terms of structure, dialogue, pacing and characterization, but where is the oomph?

Maybe I am struggling against melodrama. The easy way out is to go back and carefully inject action and tension that leads to a melodramatic resolution. But do I really want to do that?

The problem with a one-act play is the fact that you have less an hour's worth of stage time to do everything. I've also agreed to abide by the Unity of Time. So, in effect, I've trapped myself in a single continuum. Once the play begins, it ends 45 minutes later in real time.

I could cheat and break it down into mini-scenes. But I've used that little chestnut in the other thing I've written, and really, where is the challenge in writing if I resort to little geegaws just to get myself out of the hole I've written myself into?

This is the real work for me, as a playwright - getting the entire thing up to par.

If I end up with nothing of worth, at least I got some good mind exercise.

Geez, and I have a hell of a backlog writing schedule for Hinirang.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

another prurient entry

Thanks to my friends over at Yehey!, I was able to score a copy of Sukdulan, the Viva movie starring ex-child star Katya Santos in her newly bold role. I'm not really a fan but who can resist a free film? (Sidenote: It turns out that I missed the Gee Girls, the next hot group of sexy things, at their live chat session at Yehey! Too bad.)

In the film, she plays a married woman who cannot be satisfied by her husband. Ultimately, she falls to the wiles of another guy who is able to bring her satisfaction. And, in the tradition of really bad Filipino films, things take a melodramatic turn and blood is spilled.

But who is Katya Santos?

Writer Sol Jose Vanzi tells us that after Maui Taylor, Katya is the next former child actress to go "bold" at Viva. Her real name is Katrina Santos and she started as a commercial model when she was only 4, then joined Ang TV and Oki Doki Doc on ABS-CBN.

"I got my first offer to go 'bold' when I was 16 in Balahibong Pusa but I rejected it because I wasn't ready," she says. "My role went to Rica Peralejo. Through the years, Viva would offer me other sexy roles, like Tatarin and Scorpio Nights 3, pero ayoko. Instead, they gave me contravida roles on TV in Anna Karenina and in films like Radyo and Akala Mo. Recently, they asked me again and since I already turned 20 last February 2, I felt I'm of age. Sabi ko, if I'd say no again, baka mawalan na ng gana ang Viva to launch me and I might regret it later that I passed such an opportunity.

"I talked to my parents and I got their go signal, but with limitations daw. I'm the third in a brood of five and the only one against my going sexy is our only boy, the one I followed. Born-again Christian kasi siya. But the role in my launching film, Sukdulan, is challenging.

"I play a tollbooth clerk at the Sta. Rosa exit married to a truck driver who appears very macho but cannot satisfy me in bed, Raymond Bagatsing. He gets aroused only while watching X-rated films, so I fall for a playboy, newcomer Carlo Maceda, who brings me to new heights of ecstasy in bed. This triggers a series of violent events. That's why the title is Sukdulan, we show the extremes in sex and in violence."

Well, that may have been the goal, but the sex scenes are lackluster, the violence pretty moderate. And I can't get over my discomfort watching this young thing, complete with baby fat, go to town.

Into the giveaway pile then (or my future Christmas gift pile for Jason).

holy holidays

Tomorrow begins the long Philippine Holy Week, from something Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

Multitudes will take the opportunity to get out of the city, hoping to get to the beaches for some fun, sun and relaxation.

If you are part of this lemming horde, forget about going north, as significant sections of the North Expressway are under renovation. It will take you days to negotiate the stretch of road.

Going south, expect horrendous traffic as every man and his family heads off to Tagaytay, Batangas and beyond.

Others with more money are opting for the tried-and-truely overcrowded Boracay for nights of drinking and days of swimming, or just being around "beautiful people". The recently concluded Boracay Bodies 2003 (winner Elaine Matawaran bears a slight resemblance to Zeta-Jones) would seem to imply that "beautiful people" abound, but really, there are more regular people and beauty is scarce. You'd have better luck in the more expensive and inaccessible (read: exclusive) resorts - though you also run the risk of being kidnapped along with whichever assummed rich person.

In various provinces, streets and roads will be lined with the Philippines' gory contribution to the Holy Week mythology - crucifixion.

Certain penitents, in a show of incredible remorse (absurd stupidity? faith?), have themselves nailed to crosses and bake under the sun on Good Friday in imitation of Christ. There is no David Blaine trickery involved, just barbaric nails pummeled into hands. The Catholic Bishops Conference, in the spirit of compromise, have officially declared that while they draw the line on crucifixion, they are willing to accept the delivery of the traditional pabasa through rap music. Pabasa is the practice of reciting bible stories in a prescribed monotone.

While everyone is either at the beach or nailing themselves to a cross, I plan to stay at home and write, visit friends in the city and watch the cache of films we've saved just for the occassion.

the house of windowless rooms

Well, not really. But the title of Carey's early Lucifer storyline is apropos to the situation in our condo unit when summer struck with oppressive heat.

In the two bedrooms, large portions of the walls facing outward are ceiling-to-floor glass. Which look great, of course. Except that the rationale was that the tenant would live in air-conditioned glory 24/7 - which we cannot afford to do, especially with summer in full force, causing a heart-stopping spike in our electric bill.

These beautiful windows can only be opened a little bit and only in a certain place, making for the occassional breeze. But with the general mugginess, it is not enough (unlike our old place with the two balconies).

So we're planning to redo the windows and hope that the cost is not prohibitive. We also need to consider the rainy season in the latter months (I remember, in another condo unit we lived in with huge glass windows, at the height of one of Manila's typhoon's, how the glass shook and rattled and how we feared it would all come crashing smashing breaking cutting).

And of course, Sage should not be able to fall down 36 stories. Even if she tried her best.

The term has two meanings:

1. fear of expressing opinions

2. fear of receiving praise

What interests me are the doxophobiacs of the first definition, who, so as not to upset the delicate natural balance of their web of friends, would rather not offer a negative opinion about anything. Silence is what's given. Doxophobiacs think it is a good reaction because silence can be interpreted as tacit approval or agreement.

(Doxophobiacs of the second degree are rarer. I am uncomfortable with praise myself, though not to a phobia-level extreme, because often I think that an agenda (or worse, ignorance) lies under the praise. I actually prefer bitter criticism to bland praise, because with intelligent criticism I can learn and improve myself. With bland praise, only my ego gets something.

And certainly silence is not golden. It's just that some people are frightened of intelligent conversations that may expose certain undesirables.)

my point?

People who are afraid of opinions shouldn't read opinions - skip editorials/opinion columns, newspaper/magazine reviews, critical essays and my journal. Avoid it like the plague.

Because I'm not a believer in "give peace a chance".

If your writing is crap, no matter how well you ornament it and no matter how many people you rally to your side chanting "stop war, not crap", it is crap.

Get your starry-eyed sycophants to jack you off somewhere else.

Or better yet, learn to improve your craft.

Monday, April 14, 2003

grafic surprise

I finally got a copy of Comic Collective's Grafic, thanks to Charles (who also showed me his Flash stuff).

Given its objectives, this book succeeds and succeeds quite well. This is no mere hodge-podge of things.

I was impressed by the variety of content, in terms of stories, themes and art; but more importantly, I was delighted by the energy, the spirit that permeates the publication.

But while I enjoyed the text pieces and the comic journals, Elbert Or's "Magellan Was Not Killed By Lapu Lapu" deserves a shout out. His style, as I first saw in his 24-Comic CD, is evocative of Scott McCloud, Larry Gonick and those neat-o mini-tracks given away by Fundamentalists in college - brief, direct and amusing. With something to say.

Another jewel is the writing of Andrew Drilon in "White". While it is rough in places, it is worthy of further attention, using structure and words to add depth and emphasis.

Kudos to everyone involved in the book. When I see something like this, I cannot help but smile. Expect greater things from this bunch.

I cannot wait to read more.

word diarrhea and old songs

Vin, Carl, Nikki and I finally managed to coordinate time to actually go over and sing at Music21, one of favorite videoke places in Quezon City (the other one is right next door to my office). After a longish wait made bearable by Carl's copy of the new Questor Extreme Mangamania magazine (whose manga contents ranged from the interesting [the new Voltes V team] to florid masturbatory prose [the 'turtle continent' story with 'falling leaf moon'])

Sidenote: Yes, I've always had a problem with too much prose in comic book form. One of the few people I've read who can do this well is Alan Moore, during his run in Swamp Thing. And even then, there were times when you just wanted to roll your eyes and say "yes, yes, how wonderful" or "yes, yes, how well you write" or "wow, how erudite!". But come on, in a comic book (especially in a manga-style one), such blabber is out of place. But I do understand the tendency with us writers. You love your words and you want them in. Period. Too bad we need to consider what is good for the story.

Anyway, so we sing aloud and strong. All sorts of songs from today and yesterday.

Then suddenly, Vin's selection begins. Mad World by Tears For Fears.

Once upon a time, TFF was my second fave group (Duran Duran was top dog). I remember, during the pre-CD days, getting a US copy of the vinyl album of The Hurting, taking it to school and impressing my friends (at least those who knew the song). We would play Mad World, Suffer The Children, Pale Shelter and later, Shout and stuff from the Songs From The Big Chair album - our hands crossing and uncrossing in the period's dance style, eyes closed, feeling the weight of the world and the music. Every motion came naturally, and we lost and found overselves in the lyrics and voices of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith.

But as I sat in the small room of Music21, holding the mike and singing "All around me are familiar faces", the glittery mirror ball caught my eye as it spun quietly in a corner and lazily reflected bits of light. I thought about how much the song I was singing used to mean to me and how, that night, it meant nothing at all. Not anymore.

I had to read the lyrics on the screen because I didn't remember the words.
geography lesson

Even if it is seemingly impossible to avoid discussions of the stupid war (despite the fact that everyone is already exhibiting war fatigue - just end it quickly, please), it is amusing to note that not everyone's sense of where the war is happening is accurate. Sure, everyone knows it's in the Middle East, but where?

If you think your grasp on geopolitics is secure, then go here, do the thing and let me know how you did - because I failed miserably (getting the crowd favorites but dying in abject horror at the remnants of the old USSR).

At the very least, your general knowledge will improve even as you wax eloquent on whatever position you've taken. If you really must.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

music to her ears

I think that instrumental music should be part and parcel of childhood. Growing up, I was exposed to classical music because of my mother's fondness for Tchaikovsky and several other popular composers. Nikki grew up with modern orchestral master Gershwin - big band but not exactly classical. Sage, on the other hand, has been exposed to our love of Broadway, which really isn't instrumental but is big band.

So what orchestral music to play for Sage?

From the Baroque Period we have Vivaldi and Bach, with their beautiful ornamental music. The Classical Era provides us with Haydyn, Mozart and Beethoven, with more accessible compositions. The Romatics, favored drama, and produced Wagner, my mother's Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mahler. And in the Modern Era, we have Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Nikki's Gershwin, Copland and the great Bernstein (who, with West Side Story, nicely ties up everthing with a Broadway sound).

And unlike before, when owning classical music was expensive, now we have the internet to download music from great composers. It is no issue to walk into a store and pick up a CD or to order it online. We even have a book that came with samples of music from wonderful composers.

Now all we have to do is to keep playing it, until it becomes part of Sage's everyday environment - not exclusive (like original classical music was written for and performed only for the church or for royalty), but part of her audial surroundings. Available, like the beauty of a sunset.

This afternoon, as Nikki and I listen to everything from Franck's Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major to Grieg's Peer Gynt to the Broadway version of Chicago, I was struck by an ephiphany which answered this question: Why was I a mere classical music appreciator instead of a passionate devotee?

The answer was visual. Being a reader and writer primarily, I find myself impatient with the way music unfolds. Unlike a book which I can read at my pace, I have no control over the pace of the composition's performance. When I listen to new (to me) classical music, I have no idea where a movement is going, unlike text which I am readily comfortable with. To some, this condition may be exactly why they love classical music more than I do. But to me, unless it is a work I am already familiar with, I find myself on unsteady ground. My ear is not well-trained - my taste in classical music is profoundly mundane (I struggle with Stravinsky, what more bolder, rarer and more experimental composers?).

But at the very least Nikki and I aim to provide Sage with a background to at least appreciate non-Pop, non-Technowhatever.

Then she can choose if it is music to her ears.
hand in glove: business and creative in comics

As a small press publisher, I find myself wearing multiple hats (which isn't really that new or radical, I'm in the same situation with my other business).

Now while it isn't a matter of which hat is more important or which should take precedence, oftentimes it would seem that I am at cross-purposes with myself, given certain circumstances. But really, there isn't a conflict.

Here's a highly simplified outline of Kestrel's process (note that different companies have different ways of doing things - my way is just my way). Let's say, for example, that I want to write a new comic book and produce it in offset mode.

Hat #1: Creative - Being the type of person I am, I'd probably write something funky, without a care as to who will read it or how it will be marketed. I'm the type of writer who writes primarily for myself, audience second (unless that was the goal in the first place, which makes it a different matter altogether, but stay with me here). So from a smidgen of an idea, I'd proceed to develop the story, the characters, the plot (if any), making decisions on style, tone, language and format. When I'm done with my script, I'll edit it or pass it to Nikki for a once-over. Once that's done, the creative process is almost done.

Hat #2: Business - Knowing that I will be publishing a book, I'd need to generate funds to be able to produce the book. Once funds are in, I'd contract the artist, letterer and/or colorist and pass them the script. While they work, I'd be talking to suppliers, getting quotations for color sep and printing based on the mechanical decisions of format - number of copies, number of pages, paper stock, cover stock, colors or no colors, binding, size. I'd also make arrangements for how the book is to be distributed, talking to retail outlets and wrangling some sort of deal, whether outright purchase (good luck) or consignment. I would make projections on sales figures, determine my break even point and manage my cash flow. I decide at this point if I have a book I can pitch to other entities in terms of good advertising space, positioning mindshare of their brands with my assumed universe of buyers. I'd make the command decision of revising the script to be marketable or not, taking all into consideration the context in which I've decided to publish or fund.

Hat #3: Editorial - Once the script comes back, I'd check to see if everything is all right. If I have issues with the artist's rendition of a scene or scenes, then we'd have a dialogue. If I have corrections to the copy that was lettered, then we'd make the changes. At this point, I'll give the final go signal for color sep and printing once everything is as it ought to be.

Hat #4: Production - The final art is sent to the color sep. Any corrections are made. Once they're done and we have their deliverables, then the package is sent off to the printers. Normally, I'd have a production manager to do a press check, to ensure qualilty in terms of colors, cutting of the pages, pagination, all that jazz. Once the printer is done, then the new comics are delivered to us.

Hat #5: Marketing - Some thought must have been done regarding how we're going to sell the book. Why must it be sold instead of given away? Because, at the very least, I need to recoup the amount of money I spent for the creative and production process. If you manage this, then you can peform the cycle over and over again. Note that as a small press outfit, it is never our goal to publish a gazillion copies and rule the world. That would be lovely, but the financial and market limitations are formidable barriers. Anyway, so we hold a small launch/signing event or invite some press people or make announcements as to the availability of the book. We also make sure that, in whatever distribution channel we opted for, there are enough copies available for purchase. Of course, ideally, a certain budget and a plan should be in place, but really, this is one of my shortcomings as producer (the fatigue at the last mile is personally debilitating - and sometimes you feel like saying "Fuck that - I've written and published the damn thing, just let me rest a while.") But significant effort must be made - in fact, preselling and marketing ahead of time is necessary. At a certain point though, you just raise your hands and hope for the best - if you've done what you can, given your limitations (funding, personnel, time constraints, etc.).

Hat #6: Accounting - Once the book is out and sales come in, we make arrangements for the collection of the payments from the outlets. Normally, you'd pay anywhere from 20-40% of your cover price. On a regular schedule, you go and pick up your sales, tally up your sales reports and check your financial books. After the initial "golden age" of a couple of months (when your sales are optimistic), expect sales to slow down to snail's pace. It's the way of life. Now unless you manage to break even in your first month, you have no funds to roll over for your next issue or project, so you have to wait until sales come in. Well, you could do other things like get a backer to pony up more cash, but unless you can guarantee a significant and timely return, I'd advise against it (unless it's your mother whom you sweet-talked into a nice loan payable whenever).

All aspects come into play and have effects on each other.

I cannot approach making comics from a purely creative perspective because, well, how will I pay for production? How will I market it? How will I distribute it? What is the plan for recouping the money spent so I can make another book in the future?

Nor can I look at things in a purely business manner. Where's the creative? Just what am I selling? Why am I selling it? How can I expect an ROI if I have no faith in the product?

If we had a lot of money, I'd have different people responsible for each of these aspects, but we don't. So it falls to a few to do the work of the many, given the fact that my small press outfit is not geared towards becoming a true-blue publisher (in the sense that it's a primary business).

The important thing to realize, if you are a small publisher like me, is that you cannot talk about comics as a business without involving the creative.

You cannot talk about the creative without considering the business side.

Everything has its place and all of them must be thought about in the greater scheme of things. And even if you do everything right, remember that the end users are a fickle lot. You could have a well-written, fantastically illustrated full color book on immaculate paper supported by a gazillion attention-getting devices, but there remains the possibility that your book will not sell well enough for you to break even - and you can just flush your business plan down the toilet as you weep bitter tears.

You cannot coerce your readers to buy your book if they do not want to. Even if you and your friends and the critics think its the cat's meow.

That's just how things are.

Friday, April 11, 2003

2003 eisner awards

The comic book "Oscars" list of nominess has been posted.

To my delight, what I considered to be the best comic book short story, "The Magician and the Snake," by Katie Mignola and Mike Mignola, in Dark Horse Maverick: Happy Endings (Dark Horse), has been nominated in the exact same category. I couldn't rave enough this little jewel - to the point of pestering my friends to get a copy of the anthology because this tale alone was worth the cover price. 5 pages that create wonder, and a snake with the most heart-breaking line.

In the serialized story category, I'd go for Queen & Country #8-12: "Operation: Crystal Ball." by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez (Oni), despite the fact that Fables #1-5: "Legends in Exile," by Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, and Steve Leialoha (Vertigo/DC) is there on the list too. Rucka's storytelling and characterization is superior to Willingham's, despite the fact that I'd go for postmodern fairy tale revisionism over modern-day spy thriller almost any day (I would have said all the time, except that Alias is just so lovely). The first story arc of Fables was inconsistent in its writing, but did have a beauty of a theme.

For Best Continuing Series I'm with Age of Bronze, by Eric Shanower (Image) despite the agony between issues (it reads well when collected).

Hellboy: Third Wish, by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse) deserves to win Best Limited Series, but most likely the voters who would praise tissue paper Alan Moore wiped his butt with will give the award to League of Extraordinary Gentleman, vol. 2 (sometimes, it's the name of the creator rather than the story itself, like when Moore's masturbatory Promethea won).

Check out the catogories like Best Writer, etc.