Thursday, September 30, 2004

siglo: passion - baguio, 1992

"Baguio, 1992"
Words by Cyan Abad-Jugo
Art by Elbert Or
Colors by Jaime Bautista

Cyan uses the summer capital of the country as the setting for a story about memory, of objects and the weight of the past, and of bridging the divide between generations.

El, fresh from his illustrated children's book debut, creates an appealing set of characters that capture the nuances appropriate to their ages.

Contributing colors is Jaime, author of Cast, who shows off his keen eye for evoking mood with his digital palette.

siglo: passion - banahaw, 1952

"Banahaw, 1952"
Words by Jason Banico
Art by Marco Dimaano

Jason uses the mambo as an anchor in this story about choices made in war, illustrated beautifully by Marco.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

running around

ateneo high

Met up with Andrew and El and had a great time at the Real People, Real Stuff talk. I was paired with UP Kid Lit Writer Lalaine Aquino (who is a friend of Carla Pacis, so I couldn't resist gently ribbing her about the little furor a few weeks back) and spoke to around 100-120 sophomores.

I was asked to specifically talk about how to write fiction, so I did, even if it meant sacrificing the stuff I prepared for grafiction. I whipped out the power point presentation I have sitting around my laptop and took it from there.

I like these young guys - they're intelligent and vibrant and possessed of a great sense of humor. I hope that some of them become writers too.


With El in tow, I finally visited Booktopia in Libis, made friends with Robert and bought 3 books: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror volumes 12 & 13 (which means I now have everything from volume 8 onwards, except for the latest one that has my story, but that's what Borders is for next week) and The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys (a funky read for someone is grew up a diehard fan of the Bayport Brothers).

There were tons of books worth buying, but the need to save overwhelmed my magpie instincts.

all hell breaks loose

Occassionally, you realize that trouble likes to come in packs of three.

In one fell swoop, I found myself juggling outrageous happenstances, all business-related, rather unexpectedly. My staff and I were able to handle the thingies, but my disposition did not improve - considering the fact that everything happened after office hours.

But still, that's part of having a business. So, no big.

blah blah wins again

I asked Nikki to accompany me to the holiday pitch for our garment client since she thought of some of the great ideas we planned to propose.

Client was charmed by her beauty, naturally, but more importantly, bought in to our ideas, after a little verbal massage on my part.

The happy result? We got the campaign, which means we get to spread the joy around the office come Christmas.

how much to read

An American film producer and film writer has asked me to review a script, give recommendations and rewrite if needed.

Apart from the fact that I have so little time (because we fly off Monday morning), I actually have no idea how much to charge.

My film industry friends tell me I can ask from $0 (free) to $50,000, depending on the size of the outfit and what needs to be done. While I am absolutely certain that no one in his right mind would pay the upper amounts, I'm thinking that it would be nice to have some extra pocket money for the trip.

So there you go, another example of how writing can generate money.

Or maybe I'll just skip this one.

We'll see.

Monday, September 27, 2004

price of words

Okay, by now you know that Notes from the Peanut Gallery is located at (Indulge my need to placate the spiders here - Dean Francis Alfar, Notes from the Peanut Gallery)).

What happened?

Apparently, I got too much traffic.

Believe it or not.


Hello Dean,

Your account is currently inaccessible due to exceeded traffic usage.

Your account is allowed 1GB traffic.

However, looking at your account's traffic usage:

Viewing Month September 2004
Traffic Allowance 1 GB
Traffic Used in September 2004 1.067 GB (Quota Exceeded)
Average Traffic Usage 45.524 MB / Day
Projected Usage For September 2004 1.334 GB (Quota Will Be Exceeded)

Your account has exceeded the 1GB quota.

To re-activate your hosting services you will need to upgrade your account traffic allowance.

Which I think involves money and I'm not spending a cent anymore.

So, forget it. I think I've lost all the pictures and texts I uploaded, hopefully not but I don't know. I've moved to Blogspot, Blogger's free hosting.

There'll be some changes and much of what used to accessible won't be (the plays and stories and pictures). But there's also the US trip in 7 days time and somehow I'm not in the mood to fix things.

Maybe when I get back.

Back to zero.

Friday, September 24, 2004


I've been invited to give a talk over at the Ateneo High School as part of their Literacy Month. So next week I'll be one of the speakers at "Real People Talk About Real Stuff". The goal is to get the kids more involved with literature, to show them how it can be part and parcel of their everyday lives and even careers.

My topic: Writing Fiction and Grafiction (it made me really smile reading the formal invitation, because there, in stark black and white, was the term "grafiction").

By now you know how much I enjoy things like this. Like my last lit-related talk for the Inquirer over at the PICC (because my pet-talk to 50 rambunctious 2-7 year olds is a different matter altogether), I believe in taking every decent opportunity to talk about writing (as my poor friends can attest when I get in "the zone").

My agenda this time is to promote the writing and reading of more Filipino speculative and interstitial fiction and the creation of intelligent comic books.

Spec Fic, as I've written about earlier, is almost invisible in our country. We are still stuck in the social realist mode wherein the unspoken rule is that fiction must have someone on a carabao in the fields having an epiphany about the nature of life and family. While this is great, my heart longs for something more fantastic but just as capable of being literary and meaningful. I can show excerpts from texts like Luis Katigbak's "Subterrania" and other great examples.

As for grafiction, my goal is to promote sequential storytelling along literary lines. Not snooty nor inaccesible, but truthful and observant, text that tell stories that mean something, that reflect elements of what makes us human (perhaps even in an odd sense, something social realist hahaha). I have samples from the upcoming Siglo:Passion plus Cast, Wasted, Zsa Zsa Zatunnah, Isaw Atbp., and Arnold Arre galore.

Neither of these modes is boring nor lightweight. Both require as much art, craft and dedication as the so-called "serious literature". Both have the potential to speak volumes about a thousand things in a manner that is engaging and entertaining. Both do not deserve the ghetto they have been thrust into.

And so both will have my advocacy next week.

And if I am able to persuade even just one person to take up the pen and write a wonder tale, or create a mini-comic that is not a manga clone, then perhaps, when I'm older, I'll be pleasantly surprised when I pick up something to read in a bookstore or comic store.

Can love be taught?


Speaking of which, the latest issue of Literatura, focusing on the winners of the recent Palanca Awards, is up and ready for you to read.

Literatura is an online magazine of Philippine Literature edited by the dedicated Ian Casocot (a multiple Palanca Awardee himself) and is part of the comprehensive A Critical Survey of Philippine Literature).

Here's the TOC ripped from the site (too lazy to convert the all caps, sorry):








Go and read (especially Willi's essay!).

Thursday, September 23, 2004

i am dean's plantar wart

I started small, so as not to arouse unwanted attention from Dean. I thought it was risky enough to select the underside of one of his big toes as my new home, but what is life without risk? If you are a virus on the rise, you know how it is.

I got in a small break in the skin. Dean, like almost everyone, is unaware that everyday there are many cuts and breaks all over the place, invisible to them, but like a welcoming embrace to me and mine.

As I started to grow, I took advantage of Dean's ignorance. Can you imagine that he actually thought I was a corn or a callus? I know, a world of a difference, right? But to the uniformed, if it looks like a callus, it's a probably a callus. He even felt bad that he was truly starting to get old, and bore the mistaken single growing callus under his big toe as a badge of misplaced pride (never stopping to consider how calluses develop and how his big toe did not support too much weight).

So all was well, and I began to plan to extend my family by creating a mosaic of warts, smaller stars to frame a constellation that with my eye as the unblinking center. If I was left alone, I could spread myself out over other parts of foot. First the foot, then the hand - then the world.

My ambition was to grow beyond our regularly observed size of an inch across. I wanted to be bigger than anything else, bigger than the moon, fiercer than stars.

Then one day, his barbershop pedicurist asked him why he was letting his wart grow. Dean could not believe his ears and was ready to dismiss the question as yet another example of barberfolk dubiousness, when his barber took a look and confirmed the observation. And as if that wasn't enough, two more barbers plus another customer offered their pedestrian agreement. They told him to burn me off with a flame.

At that point, I began to panic. If Dean did something, it could spell disaster for me and the mosaic I wanted to create. I hoped that his penchant for sitting on any personal health-related matters would prevent him from acting (once, he suffered for months until his tooth fell out naturally - because of his irrational fear of dentists). Pain, for Dean, is more than unpleasant. He simply does not like it. Which was great for me.

Instead, he acted, but foolishly. He tried to cut me out, which was not only useless but really stupid because he could have hurt his toe (which is also my toe, dammit). If he really wanted to cut me out, he would have to perform Curettage - wherein the wart (me) is removed with a small, spoon-shaped instrument called a curette. He would need a local anesthetic to prevent him from screaming like a girly girl. He used a nipper. Foolish, foolish man.

I know he thought about using his lighter to burn me off, but chickened out when things began to get hot. If he were any smarter, he'd opt for the professional laser treatment, wherein the wart (me) is vaporized, using focused light energy. But no, cheapskate that he is, he wanted to use a P15 disposable lighter. Silly man, how little you know.

I felt victorious! This miserable excuse for a playwright could not do a thing against me!

But then his wife acted. The bitch asked him if he wanted medicine for the wart (me) and the weak-willed man agreed.

At the moment she gave him salicylic acid to use against me, I knew my end was near. I thought of stars and of nameless empty constellations and felt a sickening sadness consume me.

He began with the topical solution, using a drop or two at a time, searing me dry, causing me to blister and peel, aborting the mosaic I so carefully planned for, depriving me of the real estate I fought to build, robbing me of my home.

Even now, I know I will diminish. But I will not vanish, no. I can recur and I will return when he least expects it.

One day, the stars will be mine.

bits and pieces


My sis in NY, Jo, is this week's Blog Addict over at the online Inquirer.

Thanks to the Master of the Bable Machine!

update or no update

Meanwhile, I'm stressing over whether or not to bring my laptop along when we fly off to US on Oct 4. Normally I would - because I'd get to write and update and stuff. However, I am also the family pack mule, and have to carry everything that's handcarried, and Sage's stuff requires extra arms.

So most likely no blog updates from me, unless I find a cafe in Florida or have someone guest blog for 3 weeks - applicants may submit proposals ;)

in the news

The latest escort girl sex scandal - a certain senator and congressmen plus many other government and police officials are in hot water after several escort girls reveal nasty details about their extra-curricular activities. Note to persons looking into joining the sex trade: 'chica' (which is companionship without sex) ranges from P5k to P10k, while 'walk' (sex) is around P15k per session. This, of course, is much cheaper than celebrity rates, but more expensive than 'casa' (house) rates.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

happy happy joy joy

the kingdom

Since we went to Enchanted Kingdom first thing in the morning, during the first weekday that they're open, we had the park pretty much to ourselves. This is great because we didn't have to line up for anything, had our choice of attractions to experience and there were no obnoxious crowds that you wanted to condemn to various circles of Dante's Inferno (the odd downside being the lack of competition and anticipation vis-a-vis crowd/line strategies, which I realize is part of my park experience).

So we did everything we could before the time we set to depart (because of the AR5 finals) - Anchors Aweight, Space Shuttle, Paintball, Kart Racing, Jungle Log Jam, Flying Fiesta, everything, plus the cheapest lunch ever (on purchasing entrance tickets for our group, management offered us this promo: for every group of four, just add P100 and you get a really big lunch - whole chicken, pork barbeque, sidings, rice, drinks and dessert; which boils down to a hefty lunch for P25 per person, unheard of in amusement parks).

We capped the day with the Rio Grande ride, which result in all of us getting wet (my pants were drenched and I had to borrow a t-shirt). It was a lot of fun, a respite from the horror of work, and gave us all a nice recharge of energy before diving back to the projects that need to be finished.

Of course, during the outing I still got a couple of phone calls from clients, but that's how things are.

amazing race

Back home, Nikki and I thrilled to the finale of the Amazing Race 5, and I was delighted when Chip and Kim won. Good for them. While Colin was indeed a very capable competitor, I just didn't like him for various reasons (despite the fact that I saw a lot of myself in him). And it seems AR6 is just around the corner - yay!

And if you're in the country and feel the urge to do run around, do tasks and be stressed, join The Amazing Racer Experience (TARE), the new adventure tour product of the Department of Tourism, which opens to the public on September 25, 2004.

In cooperation with the Street Park Production, TARE had its pilot test last August where teams went on a two-day, one-night adventure to top-secret destinations, finding clues and performing challenges before moving on to the next destination.

The one-day TARE comes with the recent success of the overnight version won by a team of celebrity comedians during its pilot across different points in Luzon.

Registration is now open, so, if you're interested, contact these guys: Street Park Productions, Inc. at Tel No. (011 632) 436-8882, Fax No. (011 632) 436-8883 or E-mail or visit their website (how's that for a plug?).

And now, back to work - the TVC for Ragnarok needs stuff ;)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


In the midst of terrible deadlines, meetings and deliverables, we've decided to go out on a Kestrel company outing tomorrow to Enchanted Kingdom.

This choice satisfies the requirements of Marc and myself. The rides and walking around answer his need for physical activity. The food places and enclosed area answer my need for civilization.

It's also a great opportunity to bond with the staff (we asked them to bring their significant others for added screams on the rollercoaster) and take good photos. And to pig out on the park hot dogs.

So Wednesday is our escape from work, terminating with the 2-hour ending of the Amazing Race (I just want Colin to lose, the "Ugly American" that he is). Then back into the breach for a pair of almost impossible deadlines for Thursday and Friday before the longed-for weeked.

Monday, September 20, 2004

siglo: passion - sneak peek

(image removed)

Here's a look at the beta version of the cover spread, with placeholders for the final sliced art from the actual stories.

I've said it before, I'll say it again - Jose Illenberger's talent for imagery and color make him one of the very few designers I'd trust with my most important projects. This cover looks spectacular in actual size in full color, complete with the special spot effects.

It is a definite stylistic departure from Siglo: Freedom, and perfectly executed too - Passion's colorful stories strike at the head, heart and loins.

siglo: passion - palawan 1944

Argh! For some reason, none of Carl's artwork will appear - while everyone else's does... working on it.

siglo: passion - filipinas, 2XXX

"Filipinas, 2XXX"
Words by Dean Francis Alfar
Art by Jeremy Arambulo

This is a sequential adaptation of my Palanca story "Hollow Girl: A Romance", with incredible art by Styx Taxi creator Jeremy Arambulo.

My last few grafiction stories have veered away from the "standard" captioned and dialogued panels, a deliberate effort on my part to tell my stories in the best way I know how.

Jeremy rose to the challenge magnificently, spinning ideas and images, and created my favorite pieces of art, defining Hollow Girl's future Philippines with detail and color and thus making her world quite real.

(images removed due to doteasy wanting more money - feh)

siglo: passion - san pablo 1978

"San Pablo, 1978"
Words & Art by Gerry Alanguilan

Gerry's style continues to evolve, and here we see him take the coloring chores. His palette is in brilliant contrast to his kinetic and detailed artwork.

Coming in a couple of months is Lastikman, written by Gerry with art by Siglo: Freedom alumnus Arnold Arre, via Mango Comics.

A man struggles with the weight of regret.

siglo: passion - pampanga 2000

"Pampanga, 2000"
Words by Vincent Michael Simbulan
Art by Ariel Atienza

Ariel's art is nothing short of phenomenal. His distinct linework and photographic backgrounds set his pages apart from the other creators in Siglo: Passion. Clean, clear and crisp storytelling make for more than just a visual treat.

Food and relationships take center stage at a family reunion.

Three generations come together over their shared passions.

Friday, September 17, 2004

animal instinct

Tomorrow morning, I'll be giving be talk about animals at the Discovery Suites, in my capacity as an owner of Petty Pets, our pet store at Megamall.

As an animal-lover myself, I look forward to the opportunity to spread the word. Of course, I need to be an expert overnight in the care and feeding of rabbits, hamsters, mice, fish, lobsters, turtles and other small critters.

Thank god for the internet!

Thursday, September 16, 2004


I usually experience odd bits of "sleep-activity" (not just sleepwalking, but also sleep-trashing-the-snake-in-the-bed, sleep-piling-up-the-pillows-against-floodwaters, and other things my long-suffering wife will tell you).

Which is why, when I woke up being shaken around in the wee hours of the morning, I was convinced that I had dreamed up an earthquake.

It lasted quite a bit, because I remember keeping myself as still as possible and I felt like I was in a boat at sea.

Then I began to get angry. I hate the thought of earthquakes because basically there is nothing you can do especially at the 36th floor of a building in your underwear before the dawn. You can run away from fires or attempt to hose it down. You can evacuate from the path of a hurricane. You can be intelligent and not run around in the open during a lightning storm.

But there is practically nothing you can do against an earthquake. Next to nothing, preventive-wise (even if you have an oriental earthquake predictor device in the shape of a dragon with a pearl in its mouth). Next to nothing when it happens.

It is the sense of utter helplessness that I abominate (if you want to crush me, just place me in a situation where fierce intelligence and self-determination are worthless).

I remember feeling angry and frightened, then resigned. I thought about my wife, my daughter and all the things I haven't done. Then I remembered that I'm paid up, insurance-wise. Then I realized I didn't know if I had an earthquake rider. Then I got angrier. Grrr.

By the time I got back to sleep, the temblor was done but I was still angry, and ended up dreaming in violent red, black and white.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

best playstation game of all time

You know how I dislike posting huge graphics in this blog, but this I just couldn't resist.

This is the job progression chart from my fave computer game of all time - Final Fantasy Tactics. This one has everything - convoluted storyline, drama and betrayal most foul, tactical battles, magic items and side quests.

If I can get the old machine started again (and if we still have the disc - gasp!), I fully intend to play it again.

sibling pride

I am always proud of my siblings.

Jo, of course, is in New York, taking post-graduate studies in Education. Her blog is riot to read, as she develops a very open and engaging writing style (and yes, I knew she had it in her).

Reb, her twin, works for a huge multinational company, putting her experience as an international chef to good use, jetting around the country and the region.

Maureen, my youngest sister, is a stylist and writer for MEGA magazine, one of the best-selling fashion/lifestyle mags in the country (yay for writers).

Johnny, our bunso, continues to tackle the dog-eat-dog world of call centers.

I get teary-eyed and nostalgic when I consider how much time has passed. I remember getting all four of them in my old Datsun and taking them to see a museum or a film or just to eat (though secretly, it we'd eat at my then-girlfriend's bakeshop so I could hit two birds with one stone).

And now they're all grown up, pursuing their own lives and careers.

I'm just glad that they look me up from time to time, for advice on matters of the heart or career decisions, to gossip or just to vent about common family frustrations. Because no matter how many years pass, I'll always be their Manong Deanbo, ready with an easy smile or terrible admonishment - like any loving older brother.

business: rewards

One of the things I brought to my management style as a businessman is the importance of rewarding employees for a job well done.

I do not subscribe to notion of having a formal program (apart from the requisite evaluations for the purpose of determining raises or promotions). I'd rather have smaller, more informal gestures.

I don't think "jelly bean" rewards (where everyone gets the same reward or incentive) is a good idea as it doesn't motivate the real go-getters much, since there is no variety.

Instead, I believe in the personal touch. A pat on the back, immediate praise when I see great work or effort, a short note via email saying "thank you", springing for lunch or taking the staff out for a fun outing at an amusement park - these are more my style. And, of course, higher pay at the appropriate time.

I believe in rewarding people not for simply being at work, but in motivating them to continue doing excellent work. Reinforce good work behavior and reward the results.

I experienced much of these from one of my previous places of employment, and the aggragate result made me want to to do my best. Recognition for work done (whether it was a months-long project or something I whipped up in an hour) made me feel good about myself, built up my confidence and bolstered my sense of worth and importance to the company.

In the workplace, personal spontaneous praise often trumps the potential cash benefits. For some private praise is fine, for others, a compliment from the boss in public is the cat's meow.

Recently, I peered over my newest designer's shoulders and was wowed by the quality of her work - and I told her so. And our client agreed.

If you have a business and want to try something along this line, try this:

1. Call people in and tell them you're going to let them know how they're doing.

2. Smile and genuinely praise them immediately.

3. Tell them, in specific terms, what they did right.

4. Tell them how happy what they did right makes you feel, and how it helps the business.

5. Encourage them to do more of the same.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Once in a while I experience something akin to critical aphasia, when words suddenly lose meaning.

You know this.

When you've been writing or reading or working for some time, suddenly a common combination of letters becomes exotic, mystifying and dangerous.

You question the symmetry of "ladder", the unusual sensuousness of "maize", the reversed perspicuousness of "proposal" and wonder just what the hell "thorough" is all about.

Letters swim around the page and you feel like an idiotic intruder, getting a painful glimpse of what it must feel to be illiterate, to be void of words.

When this happens, it is time for a smoke.


Frankly, I don't understand the industry, but I do like knowing that in case something happens to me, there'll be a little something left for Nikki and Sage.

It's not being morbid, really. You reach a point in time when such things become simply a matter of when, rather than if. The thought of being insured was inconceivable when I was younger, when mortality was an absurd notion (unless it was glamorously self-inflicted). When you are young, you'd rather yawp than fear the future.

I paid up the premium for my policy for the next year (at least I don't have to worry about monthly payments). I feel like I just paid for last year's - time moves an unseen wind behind us.

I am still amused by some of terms or riders I have. X amount if I lose a limb, etc.

It really makes me think how fortunate I am at this time in my life. At the risk of sounding vainglorious, I have a wonderful wife and a clever daughter, a place I call home, a pair of businesses to pay the bills, writing to exercise my spirit, good family and friends, and generally good health.

While the wheel can turn at any time and fortunes reverse, I can pause at this precise moment and be thankful for all my blessings.

In all our relentless efforts to have a good life, in all our paranoid or practical hedging against misfortune, it's good to stop. Just stop and breathe and look around and close our eyes.

Just for a moment, before we jump back into the hurly burly.

Monday, September 13, 2004

come what may

My issue of Newsweek has a bit on economist Jeremy Rifkin's new book "The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream". He argues that the American Dream, with its overbearing work ethic and focus on individual autonomy, should no longer be viewed as the best route to prosperity.

It seems that the European Dream, which emphasizes community and quality of life, has citizens enjoying longer lives, less poverty and greater literacy level. In fact, European productivity is fast encroaching on US levels.

What of us Filipinos?

The Philippines, of course, is a melange of both lines of thought. After all, writers have observed that we spent 300 years in a Spanish convent and 50 years in Hollywood. And let us not forget our innumerable years with Chinese merchants and the Muslim cottas of the south.

We evince deeply ingrained traits from our Spanish overlords as part and parcel of our culture, obvious in how we think, how we approach life, how we treat ourselves and others, how our communities are built, and the place of the church. We learned the value of the work ethic from the Americans, along with belief in the power of one man in the "right", and the four-color superheroic notions of truth, justice and the American Way. From the Chinese, we picked up on mercantile maneuvers and dynastic protectionism, among many other things. From the Moro South, one of the cradles of the our race, our patrimony includes respect of law and education, love for story and tradition, and a fierce sense of what is rightfully ours.

As is the case with a nation of multiple powerful influences, the national character is at once both easy and difficult to grasp.

In terms of wanting a better life, majority of us continue to subscribe to the American Dream. A dream passed on through the generations, promising wealth through honest effort - but across the sea, in America. The exodus of our best and brightest is an ongoing concern. And who can blame those that leave when their upbringing is one where the White Man's Land is the Land of Milk & Honey? When even their thoughts, like these, are described in English, a language we have a love-hate relationship with? The American Dream is so powerful that a simple substitution still makes sense. The selections continue to grow: Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Australia, Hong Kong, and parts of Europe itself.

We are taught to look at those who leave as heroes, because of their dollar remittances. We gamble our international relationships, free one of our own from terrorists, then fete him with house & lot and tears of joy and relief - because we do not want anything to sully the integrity of the dream.

The European Dream, here contextualized as the Spanish Dream, is expressed in terms of Filipino pessimism. One of the characterizing phrases in common use is "bahala na" ("come what may"). Some argue that it is "we worked hard, did our best, and the rest is up to God". Others opine that it is more "this is beyond us, whatever will happen will happen". Is this the not-so-secret rhetoric of those who are left behind, either by choice or circumstance?

What is the Filipino Dream? Why don't we have one, divorced from the dreams of conquerors and white men? When we dream of a better life, just whose way are we envisioning?

The way it stands is this: majority dream, American-style. They leave, work hard and make their dreams come true, to a certain extent.

Those that remain continue to sleep, and, when awakened by coup or typhoon or hunger, look around groggily, shrug their shoulders and say "bahala na".

diana or aubrey

If I play my cards right, I may be able to convince one of my clients to go the oxymoronic clean-prurient route and take either Diana Zubiri or Aubrey Miles as their image model.

If so, my distant burning ambition of directing a photo shoot with my #1 and #2 crushes may become a sordid reality. ("Yes, Diana, bite your lip like that!")

If not, then I'm stuck with one of the Starstruck guys, who is more wholesome and all that.

But really, I want my girls! Projecting success, I've already envisioned an entire campaign built around either of the sexy ladies, reeking with naughtiness and innuendo but easily defensible as, er, art.

The chances are slim (because it is taking all of my charisma to present the girls as wholesome examples of Filipina modesty), but if I manage it, yay!

Sunday, September 12, 2004

reality check

Over dinner at Little Asia along Tomas Morato (selected by our youngest gourmand Ralph for their delectable Boneless Tilapia in Honey-Mayo Sauce), the gang and I engaged in talk about jobs like the old farts that some of us are becoming.

I grew up during the time when, when thinking about a stable future for their children, parents would insist on a certain hierarchy of professions. Tier One: Doctor, Lawyer; Tier Two: Architect, Engineer, and so on. It was drummed into my head that these were the jobs that guaranteed financial independence and a good life, along with respectability and a very high position in the social strata.

In fact, I was so brainwashed by their conviction that I moved through my formative years convinced that I needed to be a doctor or a lawyer. Nothing else would do. My little talent with words was considered of interest but of no real import or relevance to real life. When I applied for college, I landed a pre-med quota course at UP Diliman, which would enable me to make my final choice between law and medicine. Later, I came to my senses when my unhappiness became too much to bear and I abandoned the prescribed path, stunning my three parents (my mother and stepfather called in my biological father from the US so they could triple play me). My final choice was to go where my heart led me, and they all forecast doom, misery and inevitable poverty.

A few days ago, I began to gather information on how well these high priority professions pay.

I encountered an architect who works for a small firm with competitive pay. Only a few years younger than myself, he had the title of Senior Architect. His monthly salary is just around the same amount a fresh graduate working in a call center would make. Starting architects make as much as I would pay a Junior Designer in my own company.

With doctors, you need to be very well-connected or wealthy in the first place. For example, to have a clinic in the new hospital along Ortigas, you need to plunk down P10 million, in addition to other expenses. Or you work as an employee for a company like Clinica Manila (where we take Sage) with a stunningly low monthly wage augmented by your P300 consultation fees. Or even worse, you can work for the small derma clinics and make much less.

With law, unless you're into Tax Law or Corporate Law, your monthly take-home for the many rungs of the ladder is nowhere near the promised bonanza. I know of a trial lawyer who struggles to make ends meet: his salary is barely enough to support himself, his wife, two children and payments on their home. Unless you create a niche like my brother, it's going to be long and hard road.

It is not much different for other professions. For example, a new policeman makes around P12k a month, with incremental raises as they get promotions, all the way to the rank of Director which makes around P40k.

A manager at a resto chain makes around P15k, while it is minimum wage for staff-level positions and their equivalents (salesgirls, promofolk, waiters, and the like).

Insurance promises gigantic windfalls if you are a killer salesperson with incredible connections. Then you get to drive around in a Jaguar. Otherwise, you experience life in feast-or-famine mode.

Teachers continue to get underpaid compared to the private sector. You can spend years as a consultant in consultancy firms at around P12k - P15k. Think your MBA can help you? At one point in time, a brilliant acquaintance of mine with an MBA from the requisite impressive US school was making around P30k. Another MBA holder is currently jobless and is willing to work for peanuts.

Professional writing is not much better. You can freelance and get a word rate, averaging around P1.5k - P2.5k per article for magazines from the Summit Group, or be employed by a company with copy requirements for around P15k - P20k. Pure creative writers who dream of living off publishing royalties in the Philippines have to produce a large number of best-selling books in a short span of time, in an industry where print runs are generally 1,000 copies (with big print runs at around 10,000 copies).

The tech industry had its heyday with the bubble of irrational exuberance. At one point in time, designers could command up to P60k, with managerial salaries over P100k. Those days, of course, are gone, with a few sterling exceptions.

Advertising and marketing companies exist in an odd space. On one hand, if you are a creative, you are pretty much taken care of. If you consistently do good work and bring in awards, your pay will grow as you climb up the pyramid, earning anywhere from P30k to P80k and even higher. However, in the same industry, rank and file (and account executives) operate along the same low pay level: start at around P8k and progress to the twenties.

Creatives also do well in similar industries (acting, directing, production). Actors can do TV series and get around P50k per episode or do TV guesting at around P10k to 15k (they get bigger paychecks with films). TV advertising directors can make from P80k upwards. MTV directors can charge along P100k+, depending on the producers - but if you're new and unheard of, chances are you'll be doing it for much much less, if you're tasked to do it at all. Composers begin at around P30k for a jingle if you're friends. Food stylists can make a killing, given the fact that so few of high caliber exist - they charge P7.5k- P25k per plate (per layout). While starting photographers make around P5k - P10k per shoot, big name photographers play at P150k+ per day (there's also cutthroat competition for the wedding market).

For me though, nothing beats having your own business. The risks and headaches are terrifying, but everything balances out. Your small business can grow and take care of your future. Owners of restos, retail stores and other small businesses can pay themselves what their books can afford.

At a recent job fair, the organizers were forced to extend their hours and days to accommodate the thousands of people looking for work. Growing unemployment is a reality, with thousands of new graduates joining the ranks of the jobless every year. Openings are biased towards those who matriculated from the "top" schools: UP, Ateneo and La Salle. But having a diploma from those schools is not a guarantee of a job, much less good pay.

What does all this mean?

When Sage is of the appropriate age for such things, I will tell her:

1. Whatever you choose to be, make sure you like it. Find a job that fits you or, if it does not exist, create it. Follow your bliss but manage your own expectations.
2. You do not have to be a doctor or a lawyer or a corporate person to be comfortable. Define what makes you comfortable and work to achieve it. Do not buy in the previous generations' flawed reasoning spawned by the need for social positioning.
3. Do not undervalue your creative abilities. Contrary to what I was taught to believe in, words or a good eye for beauty CAN feed you. Develop your skill sets in language, writing, art and similar lines.
4. Look at starting a business. Even if, like me, you don't think you're a businessman, you could be surprised.
5. The good life isn't about money, so that shouldn't be your number one priority. But if you want to be able to travel around Europe, barefoot and carefree for three years, you need to be able to pay for it.
6. Abolish the notion of job hierarchy from your mind. As long the people holding jobs maintain their values and principles, no one job is intrinsically superior to the next.

Apart from that, I really don't know.

Friday, September 10, 2004

knifing krip

I know. Such a provocative title.

But in the continuing drama currently enthralling the literary world and other couch potatoes with regards the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Awards, it seems that it is Krip Yuson's turn at the stake.

Angas ng Kurimaw writes: this country, one’s position as a poet is valorized at times not by the inherent quality of one’s work but by mere conferment given by your own
circle of confreres.

Yuson’s logocentrism which stems from the cult of veneration generated by those who are in agreement with and those who sanctify his New Criticism aesthetics. It is a position sustained by existing schools in creative writing from Baguio to Silliman and fortified by existing literary modes of production. So can we blame him if he uses such power to impose upon us that this is poetry and this is not, and that this is children’s literature and this is not? Not so, for his social being in our collective consciousness has been defined by this very social system which privileges his mode of thinking over those of the rest of us which unfortunately sometimes insist on intention as art.

And so till then, Yuson remains where he is now. The laws of physics say that no two matter can occupy the same space at the same time. That position which defines Philippine literature, or more specifically, writing in English, along the lines delineated by Yuson and his literary barkada (Gemino Abad, Edith Tiempo, etc.) is occupied, for now, by these personalities. In time, they, along with Yuson, will
be dislodged.

One night, I dreamt of knives, and writers and peoples from all walks of life were using these to stab Yuson and company’s poetry to death.

There you go.

In the mailing list that this blog entry was first posted, it was followed by the usual defender/accuser fandango, spilling out into issues like freedom of speech versus speaking our responsibly (because of the very visually-monikered spinning kulangot's anonymity.

So in the past couple of weeks, we've questioned the definitions, relevance and worthiness of Chick Lit and Young Adult Fiction, Comic Books and Grafiction, and now, Poetry.

There's still a lot of ground to cover (personally, I'm rooting for the Play, Novel and Short Story categories myself).

Isn't it wonderful that we Filipinos, as a people, take our reading so seriously? :)

what willi lost

In the course of corresponding with Willi Pascual, he shared with me the story of what he won and lost.
As a writer who is also an expatriate, it is hard for a Filipino to leave his homeland and still pursue his passion to write, knowing how lonely and how much difficult it would be away from home to seek recognition from his own country.

The Palanca medal was the ticket that brought me back home.

I have been writing stories all these years about lives I have left behind, relying mainly on memory and imagination.

My winning entry itself was a story of a trip I made back home after ten years to meet for the first time Nora Aunor, Philippine cinema’s most enduring icon, a woman whose art and life inspired me. It meant a lot to those who longed for Nora in foreign lands, members of the International Circle of Online Noranians (ICON) who first read my stories as postings in our e-group. The Noranians in Manila were the first to celebrate with me after I received my prize. They took me out for dinner at a seafood restaurant. Mandy Diaz of GANAP (Grand Alliance of Nora Aunor Philippines) cooked sinigang for me in Caloocan while the others partied at Gerry’s Grill in Libis.

The medal also allowed me to return to my home province where friends, young Novo Ecijano poets and writers, came to celebrate and show me the early poems and stories I thought I had lost. They have kept my writings in their wallets and even memorized a few line by line. They said that the Palanca award inspired them to continue writing along with the students who came to listen to me talk at the Central Luzon State University, who later asked if they could see the medal and touch it. Because of the medal, I have returned to my hometown with my name in streamers hanging from the arc that welcomed visitors to the city, in the city hall itself, the university gate and the high school where I graduated. I was presented at the university flag-raising ceremony and the mayor and the city officials honored me with a plaque recognizing me as an outstanding son of the city. It was important for them because more than the recognition itself, it was the kind of return one would hope for a kin and a friend whose struggles they knew firsthand, a hometown boy who left a long time ago and has finally returned.

As it turned out, I would lose the medal on the same day.

He continues:
It’s tempting to call it fate. I am leaving the country again without the symbol of what it all meant to me - no medal, no plaques, no pictures. Again I will have to rely on memory to write it all down. And because I know that I will not be hanging a tangible object on the wall or keeping it inside a drawer, the weight of the lost medal becomes heavier on my chest, the act of remembering will be around my neck in every single moment of a life lived away from home.

He concludes:
Again it was midnight and it reminded me how like Cinderella’s ball, my celebration was short-lived, how everything had turned out as it should be as warned by the fairy godmother. I kept thinking of the person who now holds the medal. Did he recognize the value of the medal? Was he torn between returning it or selling the digital camera?

We saw a taxi coming that stopped a few meters before us. We walked towards it and as I was about to open the door, I looked down and saw something on the pavement.

“Marc,” I said, “Look!”

I could not believe it. Right where I was standing was a pair of leather sandals. It rested on the road neatly placed together, as if it waited to be found, beckoning. Why would somebody leave them on the road? My thoughts raced but the taxi was waiting. I picked up the sandals and held it close to me inside the taxi. As the taxi drove, Marc asked me why I had to pick it up and take it with me.

“Do you think it means something?” I asked.

“Ewan ko. Ikaw naman ang magaling diyan.” Marc said. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know yet,” I answered, my voice breaking as I hugged the pair of sandals and began to weep for everything that happened the past week, for everything that was lost and found, for everything I long to recover in the heart of my journeys, my arrivals and departures.

His prize-winning essay, "Devotion", will be published in Literatura magazine. Literatura is edited by Ian Casocot (and I will guest-edit a future issue devoted to grafiction).

It will also come out as a series in Bicol Chronicles, the oldest newspaper in Noralandia.

When it is made available, make sure to read it. It is so well-written, it's irresistable...
In March 2003, I met a Noranian in Caloocan City who had enshrined a pair of Nora Aunor’s worn, green Via Venetto shoes in an empty aquarium.

siglo & darna

And as if the ruckus over the "Okay-she-won-but-is-chick-lit-real-lit" thing wasn't enough to keep my normally laidback readers snickering, there's this. An excerpt:

This seems to be the year for questioning the Manila Critics Circle's relevance and decision-making process, as the questionable verdicts aren't limited to the Young Adult category. I for one was aghast that they would award anything to Mango Comics' Darna, which was mediocre at best. That it should tie with Siglo just makes my brain want to commit hara-kiri, because WHAT STANDARDS ARE THEY USING?

Of course, one can argue that Siglo has its own flaws, but its ambition, its scope, its willingness to reach for and achieve more than your run-of-the-mill slab of sequential lit -- these are undeniable. Meanwhile, Darna offers stilted writing, hackneyed superheroics and gratuitous T&A, which can hardly be deemed an accomplishment, much less award-worthy. Amidst the flurry of congratulations from the local comics mailing lists and weblogs, very few people have chosen to express concern -- at least in writing -- about the discrepancy in quality between the two supposed winners. Hey, we're Pinoys. We're like that. But if word of mouth is anything to go by, I'm far from the only person disturbed by this decision. I'm not looking to diss Mango Comics as a company -- I am very much looking forward to future releases from them, from talents such as Gerry Alanguilan and Arnold Arre (and besides, it seems that so many of my friends work for Mango these days) -- but hey, bad comics are bad comics. To pretend otherwise is to be stupid.

A number of people have come up to me to ask my thoughts on the matter, a few have even written or texted. I told them all the same thing: that we (the Siglo team) were just happy to have been recognized for our efforts to lift grafiction created by Filipinos a notch higher. That a nod from a circle of unquestionably literate critics was a great pat on the back. That it would be mean-spirited to even consider questioning the tie.

As I wrote in my reply to the anonymous commentator on this subject in the "Yes, but is it literature?" post, it is the right of any awards-giving body to declare winners, no winners, or a tie as they see fit. It's their prerogative. For us, just being nominated for the award was honor enough. Being a finalist is not a bad thing. Note: Both Siglo: Freedom and Darna were nominated. We did not "join" the competition in the manner of other contests like the Palancas (where you submit your entries).

Smart minds have reasoned that the Manila Critics Circle awarded two books for two different things, both important to the continued growth and health of our local industry. They awarded Siglo for the being (in the words of one of the critics) "a brave bold step", as a literary effort, warts and all (and of course we are all aware of Siglo: Freedom's flaws - no freshman effort is ever pristine in all aspects, but I'm damn proud of it and happy as hell). And they think Darna was awarded in a nod to the pop culture origins of pinoy komiks, with Darna as a symbol of Filipino pop art, and also because Mango Comics took big steps in terms of the book's production, marketing and distribution.

Let me clarify the paragraph above: I was not the one who reasoned thusly. So, please do not misquote me. Do not even think of it.

But part of the reasoning is sound. In his acceptance speech before mine, Mango Comics publisher Zach Yonzon referred to Siglo as "hifalutin", in the context of his book even being nominated (it was a compliment).

In my own speech afterwards (which Ruey de Vera, in jest, called my "rebuttal"), I said that I accept the term willingly. Because of Siglo's approach, subject matter and design, we are, in a way, hifalutin - with respect to Darna.

After the awards, while chatting with the Yonzon family, we both exchanged happy words and talked about what our groups were planning for the future. Siglo: Passion for us; Lastikman, Moomoo Hunters and Jam for them.

Again, let me clarify: there exists no animosity between Siglo and Darna. The competition for the award ended with a happy tie (in fact, Zach is one of the featured creators of Siglo: Passion). The relative merits of each book were ferreted out by the judges, and both were found worthy for one reason or another. Reasons expounded upon by the judges in the books' respective citations.

And finally, to answer someone who texted me "Do you think Darna is literature?": Yes, of course it is. Popular literature is part and parcel of Philippine Literature. Just because the subject matter is not of the ivory tower mode does not negate its intrinsic value.

Consider this instead: this is the first time that two comic books won the prize, in a year where other categories had no winners.

We each went home with a trophy, so it isn't even a Solomonic scenario where we have to halve the award. How can each be "best"? Gentle reader, the world abounds with ties, whether by clock or opinion.

Granted that everyone else has their own opinions (which are all valid as far as opinions go), but I'd like to let this thing rest before it grows. Instead, let us look forward to new books, new stories and healthy competition.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

vignette: m. p________

I first met M. P_______ one evening in the fall of ’82, the year of the implacable fog that blanketed everything in insensate vapors. I was on my way to Rosenthal's, lantern held high, when an unfamiliar shape quickly resolved itself in the form of a man. Being somewhat used to sudden apparitions, I did not evince the slightest reaction, though naturally my head raced with thoughts of yet another possible encounter, this time without my Psalter.

“Pardon me, sir,” the man said, stepping to the side of my described path. I offered the briefest of smiles to the doffed hat, noting with hidden relief that my unexpected encounter was of the more mundane sort. It was when the hat was returned to his head that I noticed a number of things that were, at that time, almost unbearable.

First, the hand itself was covered in what I initially thought to be a coarse-haired glove, until my powers of observation persuaded me otherwise. The man’s hand was hirsute beyond reason (my previous year’s experience with Lady C____ notwithstanding) seeming more akin to sodden pelt than anything I could easily refer to.

Second, when our eyes met for an instant, I found myself almost wickedly compelled to close my own in horror. Both of his eyes were coated with a thin milky film, not unlike cataracts, and yet in the center, where the pupils would be certainly invisible, were twin red spots, from which blossomed a profusion of angered capillaries.

Third, where the man’s nose should have been located protruded instead a twisted bit of bone, as if he had been most inopportunely savaged by a rabid beast or worse.

These three things caused me to stop in a rather ungentlemanly manner. There was a painful moment of silence between us before he extended a hairy hand, breaking the unseen barrier between us.

“Good evening, sir,” he said. “My name is P________. Forgive me if I startled you.”

“And good evening to you, M. P______,” I said, forcing my face not to betray the smallest of emotions as I took his hand in my own. I then prudently stepped back and held my lantern away from us both. “I am R_______. Dr. R______. And no, I heard your footsteps a little further off. I was not inconvenienced in the least.”

“Of course,” he said, smiling as he touched the brim of his wet hat. “Then let me leave you now to your destination, good Doctor. I fear I keep you from important matters.”

I nodded once and forced an acknowledging mien, then watched his back vanish into the deep fog.

here and there


With Siglo: Freedom primed for release internationally around next month or so, every little bit of publicity helps. So I'm delighted that El sent a little something over to Comic Book Resources. Writer/Columnist Steven Grant was kind enough to add Siglo: Freedom's write-up and graphic. Keeping fingers and toes crossed that we find our market out there.


A few days after the Palanca Awards, the tricycle that winning essayist Willi Pascual was riding drove off with his award and another citation from the government of Nueva Ecija.

Of course, the physical incarnation of any award is not the award per se, but still, some things look great on the mantel or the wall of your home. It is not exactly a matter of pride or vanity, but rather a small reminder that you did well (and IS tangible proof that your happiness is not delusional). So if anyone knows anything about this, please speak up.

in cahoots

Henry, my cabby for the hour-long trek to Ermita this morning, carried a gun.

It took me a while to notice that there was a .45 sticking out of the door pocket on his side. A moment that froze me into sheer terror before the jaded Manileno in me took over.

Dean: Nice gun.

Henry: My service revolver.

Dean: Police?

Henry: PC. Crame.

Dean: Must surprise criminals.

Henry: Let them try. I'll die in my taxi if I have to.

Dean: Because?

Henry: Some robbers are in cahoots with some taxi drivers. Someone stops the cab, robs the passenger and the driver plays along. But really, they're in cahoots. They split the profit afterwards.

Dean: Ah.

Henry: So if that happens to me with a passenger, I'd rather shoot the man than risk being accused of being in cahoots.

Dean: I see.

Henry: Driving a taxi can be a life or death situation.

Dean: And you're still an active policeman?

Henry: I'm retiring in January.

Dean: Really? But you still look young.

Henry: I'm forty five. Like my gun. (laughs) But I can't stand the corruption anymore. Police have a terrible reputation and I don't want to play their games.

Dean: Makes you want to shoot them all.

Henry: Exactly. I'm Henry, PO4. You?

Dean: Ah, Jim. My name's Jim. And look! There's my stop right there.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

ensuring luck

We had our office blessing yesterday, in the hope that the aegis of God will prevent noisome spirits from doing nasty things (I wrote about the troll in the bathroom earlier - and since we transformed it into a clean storage area, we've had no issues from it).

There is talk that (yet again) there is a ghost on our floor, the restless soul of a man who died of a heart attack years ago. Personally, I haven't so much as sensed him (and while I'm not supersensitive, I'm not supernaturally obtuse either) but, as a superstitious businessman, it pays to cover all bases: hence the priest.

We also, on the advice of the feng shui experts, got ourselves one of these trendy plants from Taiwan (or maybe Indonesia) and positioned it in the dead center of the office. Initially, we had a choice between a fountain and a plant. We chose the plant because the notion of installing a fountain was mindboggling (and expensive). And those miniature ones with recycled water tinkling over bamboo was just too precious.

We made certain to position the petty cash box to face the Southeast, and had our birthday charts drawn up to see what horrible misfortune needs to be averted.

Of course, all of these things are worthless if we didn't have a decent business to begin with.

But you never know.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

visa denied & seven bad words

Nikki, Sage and I are leaving for the US next month, to spend some time in devasted Florida with a possible side trip to New York (to meet a client, visit my sister, and see a play).

We were hoping to take Sage's yaya with us. She and Nikki spent a lot of time, effort and money getting all the requisite documents, all in preparation for the dread visa interview at the US embassy today.

Well, the answer was a "no", which means that the Alfars have to travel as a nuclear family again. We must have given offerings to the wrong anitos; it seems everyone did, since the lady at that counter had consistently denied everyone who was unfornate enough to be assessed by her.

Gah. I feel harsh invectives about to explode all over this page, all destined to be hurled against the insensitive twit who denied our nanny her visa (you know, like the Seven Words That Cannot Be Spoken On Television Ever: Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker and, oddly, Tits - and I don't even need to lift a creative finger to use them all in one blistering tirade). But I'll control myself and just move on.

The last time we did this, Sage was not even a year old, and it wasn't so bad (Nikki and I only gave in guiltily during a local flight from New York to Las Vegas and gave Sage sleep-inducing medicine). This time, Sage is 2 years and 8 months old, able to reason and argue and insist on her way, and frankly, I'm terrified.

She'll have her own seat, but given my temperament plus the enclosed environment plus all the time in the air... It does not bode well.

I need to exercise Daddy Patience, I know. But I just was at a different line when the angels were handing out those virtues.

Of course, I could be overreacting to this development. But then again, that's the playwright in me, always looking for scenarios, always weighing things in terms of dramatic potential.


Stupid embassy.

yes, but is it literature?

Last Saturday over dinner, my friends and I talked about the latest brouhaha in the lit scene.

During the recent Manila Critics Circle National Book Awards (the same awards-giving body that recognized Siglo: Freedom as Best Comic Book), the award for Best Young Adult Fiction was given to Tara Sering for her novellete "Almost Married".

This touched off a firestorm of discussion as to whether or not the book merited the award, started off by Children's Literature author Carla Pacis.

The winner in the Young Adult category was "Almost Married" by Tara FT Sering published by Summit Publishing, the same group that publishes Cosmopolitan Magazine. It is the sequel to “Getting Better” the first book in a collection that has been categorized as “chick lit”. In fact, “Getting Better” and all the little books that followed after, adhere to the Cosmopolitan Magazine philosophy. The title alone of this “winning” book already begs one to ask the question why a teenager would be interested in marriage or being married. The blurb of the book begins with the sentence "After a traumatic engagement to a man who eventually cheated on her, 28-year-old Karen is, once again...” It goes on. “And their year-old relationship rocks…the conversation is satisfying and the sex is great...” And it goes on.

Is this a book a teacher, a parent, an aunt/uncle, or thinking individual would give a teenager? Obviously, those who chose this book as the winner in the Young Adult category are completely and absolutely ignorant of what the term Young Adult means in literature.

This, of course, triggers reactions across the spectrum, from Krip Yuson's column to Lille Bose's blog. Apol Lejano writes in:

First, Pacis disses chick lit as being definitely not literary. Why? She presents as her only argument the fact that "many will agree with me." Hello! Before Einstein came along everybody thought Newton was god, but that still didn't mean time proceeded in linear fashion. Just because you have the numbers does not make your idea right.

The action ramps up, prompting such comments as:

I swear this is going to be the last post regarding this matter. Things have gotten so messy that Carla's original point for writing her article is already lost in the mudslinging.

As Ian Casocot noted in his summary of proceedings (go and see!), other blogs got into the action, including Paolo Manalo, who writes that "Yes, Literary Recognition Can Be Insulting" and questions the National Book Awards itself:

What's bothersome is what Pacis reports: that the award-giving body is "clearly looked upon by many writers and authors" including herself, but by what authority are the members of this body critics, by what literary critical output?

Now, if I understand it right, the entire thing started with Pacis being upset over the fact that once again, the National Book Awards ignored the entire past year's output of Children's Literature and awarded an "oversight" from the previous year instead Sabrina's Cookbook Diary by Fran Ng and Ginny Roces-De Guzman). Not even a single book was a finalist: zero. Pacis writes:

They went on to say, that of the children's books published last year, none deserved to even be nominated. To add insult to injury, they said that maybe this was a sign that the industry needed to improve.

Yes, not even Russell Molina's Isang Dosenang Kuya, the Philippine Board of Books for Young Readers (PBBY) grand prize winner, was considered good enough. Not to mention any of the Carlos Palanca Awardees of the relevant year (that saw print, of course).

Poor Tara Sering was caught in the crossfire.

While her book is definitely not the be-all, end-all of Philippine Literature, it is unfair to question her or her book's integrity. At its heart, it is a romance novel. And the romance novel, as a genre, is part of Philippine Letters, snootiness be damned.

If you accept the authority of an awards-giving body like the Manila Critics Circle, then you accept that fact that someone (actually, several someones) will make subjective determinations on what qualifies as quality literature - because there is no absolute authority when it comes to literature.

Is it wrong to write something that appeals to the masses (simple plot, characters, melodrama, formula, English)? Certainly not. Is it wrong for this text to be recognized and honored with an award? Of course not. Is it right to question the integrity of the book and the NBA? In the world of letters, everyone's opinion is valid as far as opinions go. People can question, should question, sure.

We should question why we write and who we're writing for. We should question how we write and how we get it to our audience. When we question why what we wrote did not get an award...well, that's just not right, is it?

To me, this all sounds like a lot of sour graping - though, happily, in the course of the mudslinging, many items worthy of thought were brought to light.

Honesty time: I have no intention of even picking up Tara's book. Why? Not because of misplaced snobbery or envy (please), but because it is simply not to my taste, not a genre I like to read. But I recognize the fact that she obviously worked on her book. It was completed, published and marketed well. And it won an award.

Whether or not Chick Lit is Lit is beside the point.

Monday, September 06, 2004

haha sunday

Sunday became a day for comedy films, with Nikki and I urging the DVD player to finish "The Guru" at around 5AM, and then catching "Connie & Carla" later in the afternoon.

"The Guru" (2002)has become one of our favorite films. Simple, cheeky and well-lit, the film succeeds in creating entertainment that is far removed from the pedestrian without losing its bite. It's a commercial film with indie sensibilities, great acting from Jimi Mistry and Heather Graham, and a killer mix of Bollywood musical extravaganza and Grease.

While watching it, I told Nikki that I couldn't name any Indian actor known outside of India, except for Apu from the Simpsons. Later, in the film, the very same conversation occurs, also with Apu as the answer. LOL!

On the other hand, "Connie & Carla" (written and acted in by Nia Vardalos) was a disappointment. It started out strong enough, with enough downright funny vignettes about dinner theater (and like the theater enthusiasts that we are, Nikki and I sang along) but painfully degenerated into scene after scene of bad writing. The end was particularly flat and irredeemable, but at least one reason exists (good or bad, you decide) to see the film - there is a crossdressing Filipino there.

I'd rather watch Jimi and Heather dry hump to Billy Joel.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

perfectly cast

I came across the first issue of CAST (Written by Jamie Bautista, Art by Ronin Core and Elbert Or, published by Nautilus Comics), and was very impressed. Almost everything that was wrong about the earlier sampler has been rectified. Bautista's writing is tighter and less long-winded, allowing a smoother narrative flow. And while I am still not a fan of the mangaesque art-style, I am happy to see a more independent flavor in the second story. A stunning revelation was the pinup by Camille Francisco - dynamic and leaving you wanting more.

This is not bad for a first issue, in fact, it's quite good, laying the groundwork for further developments down the line.

After the release's delay, I am glad to say it was worth the wait. Go and get it.

Friday, September 03, 2004

comic book advocacy

I just finished being interviewed by a pair of writers from Heraldo Filipino, and the topic was the history of Filipino comic books and its current state. I made sure to point them out to Gerry, whose is a bigger and more knowledgable advocate than I am, but was able to tell them about the current day and the handful of years I've been "active".

I've also been invited to guest-edit an online literary publication that will focus on graphic literature in a few months time. This is a big deal for me because it is an opportunity to position grafiction toe-to-toe with the best of Philippine literature. Previous issues of the journal have featured award-winning fiction, plays and poetry. More on this as it develops.

the babel machine

Joey's spankin' new blog is up. Click here for the Babel Machine.

Inq7 has also published the first part of his prize-winning essay, Surviving the Zeroes.

vignette: stick, claw, wing

In the aftermath of the furious battle, the three companions stood closely together, their noses pinched and proof against the disagreeable odor, little understanding how fortunate they were to have survived the assault of the Curdled Ones.

The Hippogriff tucked her head under a wing, to diguise her tears of relief.

The Stickman quietly lamented the loss of his favorite bough.

The Whirling Lobster, whose sensitive nostrils had almost succumbed to olfactory attack, sighed. "I cannot, for the life of me, see why some hearts simply go sour."

"Some things are simply that way, I suppose," the Stickman said, gingerly stepping over a Curdled corpse that began to dissipate in the reluctant breeze. "If you keep hoping-"

"There is nothing wrong with hoping," interrupted the Whirling Lobster. "For some, it is all they have."

"Then does it matter if it is sweet or sour?" asked the Stickman. "What would make you sour?"

"Sadness," replied the Whirling Lobster, squinting at the setting sun. "Or too much waiting."

"I do not think these woods will ever be free of their stench," the Stickman said.

"That, if anything, tells us how it is past time we left this terrible place," said the Hippogriff. She had kept her silence throughout the ambush and now only wanted to depart.

"But," said the Stickman, "we still have no idea where we are or where we are to go!"

"True," agreed the Whirling Lobster, waving his remaining claw. “Perhaps it is better to wait for help to come?” Deep in his clockwork eyes the tiny crack widened just a smidgen - but being blind to his own flaws he, of course, did not notice.

"No," said the Hippogriff. "We must move. What we choose to do now-"

"What do we-" began the Stickman.

"I suppose we just have to make do with what we do do," said the Whirling Lobster.

"Well, then." the Hippogriff said, clearing her throat. "What we do do or do not do will simply have to do for now. It is certainly better than doing nothing at all. Too much of that and the world just passes you by. I should know." And she did, remembering for a moment the tragic circumstances of her melancholy captivity and the endless days and nights she spent looking outside from the inside of a cage.

"But," said the Stickman, "what ARE we to do?"

His two companions looked at each other, then at him.

"We go where wings can take us," stated the Hippogriff.

"But I have no wings!" protested the Stickman.

"I have enough for all of us," replied the Hippogriff.

"But somethings are perhaps not meant to fly!" the Stickman said, aghast at the notion of leaving the ground.

"I promise to hold you and not let you fall," offered the Whirling Lobster. "My good claw, after all, is the one the Knave of Spades left me with. You will not fall."

"Besides," the Hippogriff told the Stickman, "even if you do fall, we can always pick you up. You do remember what the Little Girl used to say - 'sticks is sticks'."

"They most certainly are not!" roared the Stickman, shocked that anyone remembered the cruel words of the petulant princess.

"Careful, careful," said the Whirling Lobster. "The last thing we need is for you to catch fire."

"All I'm saying is that if you do fall, we can pick you up, no harm, no foul. And that's all I have to say on the matter. If I've hurt you, do keep in mind that the words I spoke are not my own but someone else's and it is her phraseology that makes it painful." With that, the Hippogriff padded away, head high, stretching her wings.

"All right," muttered the Stickman, "all right."

finding the fantastic

I am a fantasist at heart.

I love the literature of the extraordinary, tales of wonder and stories that break the all-too tangible walls of reality. I love myths and legends, travelogues through uncharted territory, explorations into imagination and sorties beyond the known unknown. I like magic in all its forms, the possibility of the interference of gods, the intimation of things beyond stars, and denizens of trees and earth, wind and rain and fire. I enjoy best those stories that take me elsewhere, that speak in the language of dreams, that employ imagery both supernal and supernatural, that play etheric music or hint at cacophonous bazaar mutterings, that show me the possibilities in an empty wooden bowl or a dying mother's wish.

These are the kinds of stories I love to write most. And to a great extent, these are the stories I do write. But in the past decade or so, I ended up questioning the value of the kind of stories I like - not their intrinsic value, because the value of the fantastic is beyond question, but rather why a greater audience has yet to be found.

Let us skip the usual argument of taste and concede the fact that certain people will always like certain things (this is spurious and leads nowhere). Exposure to new forms of literature always carries the opportunity for someone new to fall through the magical trapdoor anyway.

If you look for the literature of the fantastic here in the Philippines, you will be dismayed. Wonder tales and speculative fiction are in very small numbers and still looked down upon as inferior (as if the strides of the past years in international publishing washed over the Philippines and left it untouched, the country snug under its invisible reflective/self-reflexive forcefield). The only the genre that permits or encourages the fantastic is Children's Fiction. This is wonderful, of course, but even this published mode enforces very short stories whose first priority seems to be the deliverance of an Aesopian moral (certainly not all, exceptions do exist).

In the non-Children's section (I hesitate to use the term "adult" because, well, why?), the pickings are even slimmer. In the past few years, Lucero's magic realist stories have livened up the dreary Filipino word-community, harkening back to Yuson's "Philippine Jungle Energy Cafe" of 1988. There are few other examples, and none of them are truly literature of the fantastic as I define the term - unashamedly magical, beyond lyricism and tenor and style.

Fantasy is the kiss of death. Mainstream Filipino publishers prefer almost anything else (something that will definitely sell or has the potential to sell). There is almost no market. And if ever there is interest from a publisher or a producer, it must morph to comply with the perceived saccharine taste of the masses, becoming so divorced from its original truth and beauty in order to accomodate trite and tired sensibilities.

One of the few places to find the fantastic is graphic literature, but even there, the specter of another nation threatens our four-color patrimony (and besides, grafiction needs to fight its own set of battles). Japanese manga has all but succeeded in eradicating the tradition of homegrown heroes.

To find the fantastic, we must create the fantastic. We must write it ourselves, develop it brick by enchanted brick. We must write powerful literature that unabashedly revels in wonder, infused with the culture of our imagination - which means being Filipino and, at the same time, surrendering that very same limiting notion - being more than Filipino, unleashing the Filipino of our imagination, divorcing and embracing the ideas of identity, nationhood and universality. We need to do magic.

Here in the Philippines, the ghetto for the fantastic still exists, its bleak walls lined with sad little candles fueled by hope, its courtyard populated with birds of fire whose plummage burn less brightly, and with duende that bitterly complain about the relentless rain, huddled under silent stranded ships whose sails were once kissed by the breath of gods.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

lunch economics

On a workday, I really hate having to eat out (unless the tab is picked up by a client, in which case I'm more than happy). Given the realities of resto pricing, my wallet often feels brutally violated.

For example, today after a meeting with a real estate developer ended at on odd time, I was caught by the lunch hour with little affordable options. I ended up spending around P240 on pork loin and a drink. If not for the fact that I could smoke in that particular resto, I would have felt that I didn't get my money's worth.

I much prefer to eat at the office. Everyday, just before lunch, a lady comes over with a menu with three selections, each costing only P35, including rice, vegetables and a goodly viand portion. Better yet, I only have to pay my tab every 15 days when we commonly assess my consumption.

I never bought in to the idea that a "boss" should eat like a "boss". It's stupid, repulsive, insulting and expensive.

But having said that, I give in once in a while when the routine of the packed lunch gets to me, and I go off to treat myself to huge salad or an unwarranted buffet.

palanca awards 2004

It was a different kind of awards night at the Manila Peninsula. I didn't know half the people there - and it turned out to be because around half the winning authors were first-time awardees. I was very happy to know this, because it means that a lot of young people are taking up the pen and writing in Filipino, English, Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Iluko, contributing to the growing corpus of Philippine Literature.

I finally got to meet Glenn Sevilla Mas, my co-playwright:

ME: Hi Glenn, I'm Dean. I've been wanting to meet you. Last year, I thought it was you I was talking to, but it turned out to be your brother.

GLENN: Oh! You're Dean! I wanted to meet you too, because you beat me last year. I wanted to read your play - I did and I said "Maganda naman pala".

(We laugh.)

ME: Well, you beat me this year. So in a way, it's fair.

We promised to exchange copies of our plays. This delighted me because there are very few people who can offer critique in this mode. Having a fellow young playwright read my stuff can only be a good thing.

I also made friends with a new playwright, a first-time winner named Arlo de Guzman, and felt like an elder statesman.

prepare for name-dropping

I chatted with Socorro Villanueva (a cool lady from UP Diliman) as Nikki and I shared ciggies and small talk. When I realized later that she was the author of that great short story I loved last year, I asked her to send me a copy of her latest work. In a bit of artistic worship, I told Naya Valdellon (Poetry - English) how I enjoyed her verses. Luna Sicat Cleto (English - Essay), Eugene Evasco (Short Story for Children - Filipino), Willy Pascual (Essat - English) and I exchanged info on our works (because none of us have read each other's current work). Luna wrote about bicycles, Eugene about a mouse, and Willy on Nora Aunor. I was stunned when Luna confessed to reading this blog and recommending it to others, and when Willy asked why my hair was not a different color (because he saw my xanthian blog pic). I guess I have more lurkers than I thought.

We sat with Joey Alarilla (Essay - English) and some of the playwrights and suffered through a speeches and a play that had me tsk-tsking in impatience.

But one of the highlights was touching base with Judges Mike Coroza (Futuristic Fiction - Filipino), Jing Hidalgo (Short Story - English), Krip Yuson (Short Story for Children - English), Tim Montes (Short Story - Cebuano) and Ruey de Vera (Essay -English). I promised Mike I'd keep in touch (we were last writing fellows together at the UP Diliman Workshop in 1992), and found out from Tim that my beloved Edith Tiempo was okay.

once a year

Once a year, I get to spend some time with the best writers in the country, exchange gossip and reaffirm the camaraderie and brotherhood of writers.

The guy I look up to the most, Butch Dalisay, offered a handshake,

BUTCH: Congratulations, Dean. This makes how many?

ME: Nowhere near yours, Butch.

We both laughed as I confessed "7".

Once a year, if I'm lucky, I get a fantastic recharge of energy. The variety of writing sensibilities, ranging from conservative to edgy and everything in-between and beyond, is encouragement enough for me to push at the boundaries of my ability.

Once a year, I can revel in the part of my life that celebrates art and words with abandon. With no fear of alienating the good people who populate my daily life, or seeming so profound or jaded or all ivory-towery.

Once a year, I can take unabashed pride in writing. In the company of fellow writers, we celebrate past work, live in the fleeting present moment of peer accolades, and plan for tomorrow's new manuscript.

Just this once a year, we party in style.

Because in a few hours, it's back to business.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

adventures in education

By all means, hie on over to Jo's blog, as she gives a blow-by-blow of her adjustments to her new life in New York.

Her writing always makes me smile.

Say her brother sent you.


One of my favorite places is Macondo, the locale created by my favorite writer. The online version of Macondo is here, replete with good stuff, part of The Modern Word (which also has stuff on writers ranging from Umberto Eco to James Joyce to Thomas Pynchon to Jeff Noon).

One of the reasons I admire Marquez is because of his developed manner of writing. Magic Realism bridges two sensibilities that inform my own writing: wonder and the fantastic, and a level of relevant reality.

My problem with the previous white canon of literature was that there was a dearth of texts that I could truly identify with. In the process of enjoying good writing, I felt marginalized.

But when Marquez and the other similar writers stormed in, the resulting deluge drowned me in colorful words that sang to me as they drew me deep - and in that moment, I knew I had found a literature that was "universal" to me.