Thursday, September 29, 2005

migrating man

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After 18 months of loyal service, including being my writing partner with the novel and a number of stories plus all my business work, I decided it was time to retire my laptop. There was really nothing wrong with it - except that it weighed around 50 tons and is causing a dramatic and unwanted sloping of my right shoulder (eventually, this would have led me to staggering around with a corrupted eye and saying "Yes, Mawsther").

I got a new slim girl (yes, like Jason, now I think of this laptop as a "she") - all 1.8 kg. of her. My new Megabook S260 is black, light, fully loaded (after much effort) and has one of those LCD 12" screens that is perfect for the aspect ratio of widescreen DVDs.

So the old laptop is now the "desktop" at home, which Nikki has adopted, retiring her moody PC. With that, we have become a laptop family (Sage also has her own - a Leapfrog) - just like those fuzzy and irritating ads.

A large part of these past few days has been allocated to my migrating from one computer to another. And before that, I needed to install all of the programs that have become crutches to me: the entire Mircosoft Office (who can live without Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook?), the Adobe tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat), plus all the other quirky programs that I've come to depend on. Then there are all the installers for the various appliances that have become part of my life, particularly my XdaII (damn you, Marco).

And then, finally, all my files. I didn't realize that I had become such a digital packrat. I found stories and fragments of plays, incomplete things. I discovered lost goodies - including what was once my favorite bit of porn. I even found all work files from my days in Hong Kong, which survived migration at least 6 times. Pictures of the pas, sans facial hair, looking happy, somehow, pre-Sage. Music files granted by the benevolence of Napster. Comic book scripts, poetry (gasp), and games.

It was the essence of memory, in my computer's memory. My old laptop, who did most of the remembering for me, was now passing on my memories to the new sexy custodian.

Just how much of this old stuff do I need?

At the moment I decided to purge and get rid of some of the older stuff, I realized that it would be an irrevocable step. Vanishment into the digital ether, gestalts broken down into meaningless nothingness. So in a suceeding moment of regret, I chose not to erase anything, leaving off the task of sorting and deleting for another day.

After all, my new elegant partner has plently of memory for both of us on her hard drive - 60 GB, in fact. I can afford what is non-essential but somehow fraught with meaning.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

strutting our stuff: vanity and the pinoy male

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Machos in the Mirror
by Dean Francis Alfar
(i Report, September 2005)

I don’t generally think of myself as a vain person, but then again, there’s this incident I remember from high school: some friends and I were assembled at my house so that we could all ride together to a party. As we were getting dressed in our Spandau Ballet-inspired finery (then the height of fashion), one of the barkada produced, from out of the depths of his bag, a can of mousse, which none of us hapless males had ever seen or even heard of before. Naturally, we all had to squirt some into our hands and smear it on our hair. Not knowing that we were then supposed to blow-dry or otherwise style it, we left the house feeling snazzy, while looking pretty much the same as we had prior to applying the mousse—at most, our hair was a little damper, vaguely crispy in texture, and certainly stickier than before. But we felt utterly transformed. We felt gwapo.

These days (long past high school, thanks), I don’t exactly wander around feeling gwapo, but according to a survey by global research firm Synovate last year, a good many Filipino males do—48% of us, in fact. This is just a slightly lower percentage than males in the U.S. at 53%, and considerably higher than our Asian neighbors: 25% of Singaporean men think they’re sexy, and only 12% of guys from Hong Kong.

Moreover, while less than half of us (which is already a significant figure) think that we’re God’s gift to Pinays, a whopping 84% of Filipinos rate their looks as “quite” or “very” important to them. Assuming that the survey is accurate, this means, statistically speaking, that there is no male racial group on earth vainer than Filipino men. And, to my shock, I am one of them.

I have the uncomfortable feeling that female readers will not be surprised to learn that Pinoys are full of themselves. I myself was astounded by these figures, and I don’t think my wife has stopped laughing yet.

If you think about it, really, the evidence is all around us, and has been for decades. Way back before the term “metrosexual” was ever coined (in 1994, by British journalist Mark Simpson, in case you’re interested), Filipino businessmen were going around toting clutch bags—which I’m told are meant to hold guns or money, but which also frequently contain combs and the occasional small mirror. Your average Pinoy traffic cop, while likely to sport an enormous gut that completely engulfs his regulation belt, is just as likely to brandish gleaming, rosy-hued, meticulously-manicured fingernails. And practically everyone has at least one uncle or other older male relative who keeps his hair so slickly brilliantined that everyone else can conveniently fix their own hair by merely glancing in its mirror-like surface.

Those are just what we’ll call the “traditional” examples. Among the younger set, I recall a time when you couldn’t walk into a classroom of boys without nearly asphyxiating on the overwhelming communal scent of Drakkar cologne. Nowadays the choice of fragrance is more varied, but the rabidly enthusiastic application of cologne, aftershave, or that hybrid substance strangely labeled as “deo-cologne” remains constant. The Synovate survey tells us that Filipino men bathe an average of 1.5 times a day. (I’m not really sure how one takes half a bath, but I’m told by informed sources that such regular male hygiene is a source of relief and delight for Filipino women.) Since the ‘70s, the majority of Philippine beauty salons have become “unisex”, resulting in a large and growing number of young men who have never even set foot in a barber shop, which means that most of us go to salons—every three weeks or so, according to salon magnate Ricky Reyes, “for pampering”.

Not that barber shops themselves are exactly bastions of simplicity and pure functionality anymore. High-end ones offer “personal care” services ranging from facials to foot scrubs to ear cleaning. (Does ear cleaning count as vanity?) Men also go to massage parlors—real ones, not quote-unquote massage parlors—not just to soothe their tired muscles, but often for skin-improving treatments like mud baths and herbal wraps. And speaking of skin treatments, more and more cosmetics companies are coming out with “just for men” lines of grooming products, including face scrubs, lotions, and astringents. What’s significant is that more and more Pinoy men are actually buying them: just ten years ago, men accounted for only 10% of the total Philippine beauty care buying public. That figure has now mushroomed to 40%, meaning that there are nearly equal numbers of Pinoys and Pinays out there, snapping up creams and cleansers.

Even cosmetic surgery has become not just acceptable, but desirable for many Filipino men—from standard dermatology for simple problems like acne, to unapologetic vanity procedures such as liposuction and “age-defying” Botox injections. Dr. Vicky Belo of the popular Belo Medical Clinic has confirmed, “Before, (men) only accounted for one-fourth of my total clientele. Now they are about one-third.” It’s gotten to the point where “Who’s your derma?” is a topic that can actually enjoy lengthy discussion time in a man-to-man conversation; and surgical treatment has become something of a mark of status in Philippine showbiz. Actors Albert Martinez and John Lloyd Cruz, as well as singer Janno Gibbs, among others, readily (and proudly!) admit to being regular clients at the Belo Medical Clinic.

Can all this male vanity be laid at the door of celebrities like these and metrosexual poster boy David Beckham? Apparently not. For one thing, as I mentioned earlier, the Filipino trait of being vanidoso well predates Becks and his ilk. Besides, a metrosexual, by definition, is “a male who has a strong aesthetic sense and spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance”. While it seems that we Pinoys certainly do make the time and shell out the cash for our looks, we don’t always have enough of an aesthetic sense to know what we’re doing… unless there actually is a segment of the female populace I don’t know about that really does swoon over pink, manicured fingernails on a man. I can’t be sure there isn’t, having never tried the look myself.

As for why we’re willing to spend so much time and money, it may, surprisingly, be a product of social and economic factors. During the American recession, it was observed that lipstick sales shot up, only to taper down again once the recession was over. Consistent repetition of this phenomenon led economists to conclude that, when consumers feel less than confident about the future, they tend to purchase small, comforting indulgences such as lipstick rather than splurging on larger items like appliances and electronic gadgets. Correspondingly, Ricky Reyes has noted that more customers flocked to salons during the 1997 economic crisis in the Philippines, turning to relatively low-priced services like haircuts in order to make themselves feel better in an unstable living environment.

While the purchase of lipstick per se may not exactly be applicable (so far!) to the Filipino male, we can obviously draw a corollary with your average Pinoy, who might be understandably reluctant to buy, say, a flat-screen TV in a country where coup d’etat rumors circulate at least twice a year. Instead, he might choose to spend his money on his appearance, perhaps subconsciously reasoning that his shiny, bouncy hair; glowing, healthy skin; and, yes, tidy pink nails are all conveniently portable in the event that he should need to duck and run for cover. And these are straight guys we’re talking about here.

According to Noel Manucom, head of planning and strategy at Splash cosmetics, the quest for beauty may also be perceived as a quest for social equality. "Filipinos, especially those in the C and D (classes), are still influenced by their colonial mentality that a white skin and a tall nose are what those in high society have,” Manucom has said. “They may not be able to afford to have their nose done, but the desire to have a fairer skin can be met by buying… products.”

In fact, the double-digit growth in skin care popularity among Filipino males over the last six years is largely attributable to skin whitening formulas. Pinoys are still devoted to hair care products and fragrance above anything else—with growing interest in bath washes, oral hygiene, and weight loss or gain—yet skin care is acknowledged to be the main fuel of the Philippine beauty industry. This has led to some very disturbing (to me, at least) TV ads, particularly the one where a twenty-something young man testifies, with evident smugness, that his male friends have been telling him, “Pare, pumuputi ka yata, ah!”

Now personally, I have never had a verbal exchange like that with any of my friends, male or female; but I am beginning to dread that I just might someday. Not that I use whitening products, but, given the evidence from that time in high school up to the present, it seems irrefutable that I am, contrary to my previous belief, vain.

I visit my barber in Greenhills once a week—and while this does, indeed, occur at a barber shop, I not only have my head shaved and my beard and moustache trimmed, I have my feet tended to, as well. When I feel particularly filthy, I have a facial. Once in a while, my barber takes it upon himself to shape my eyebrows with a razor—I’m still not sure I approve of this, but I’ve never stopped him, either. And that’s not all my barber shop offers. I can opt for an Iontophoresis, Deep Laser Cleaning, Skin Bleaching, Skin Whitening, Underarm Whitening, Wart Removal, Paraffin Waxing, Hair Dyeing, Hair Rebonding, something called “Kilay”, and a host of other services I never thought would be found in a bastion of manliness.

These days, most women will tell you that they don’t necessarily pamper and primp in order to please men—they do it to please themselves. Most vain men, I think, will tell you exactly the opposite: we like to look good because women like men who look good. Because when all is said and done about socio-economic factors, media proliferation, and all that, what we Pinoy peacocks really have in common, before anything else, is that we are romantics.

Unlike males of many other ethnicities, we still take courting seriously. Even married men like me still make ligaw, in a sense, and we go whole hog when we do it: we buy the flowers, we pick up the check, we open doors and pull chairs out for the objects of our affections. Heck, many of us would probably still be willing to whip our name-brand jackets off our backs and lay them across mud puddles so our women wouldn’t have to step ten measly inches out of their way. Compared to that, what’s a little extra effort to smell nice and try to look like someone they’d actually be willing to be seen with in public?

So what I’m saying is, when you get right down to it, Filipino male vanity probably stems from one unifying cultural imperative: to woo women (or, well, men, depending on your gender preference). Even women we’re already married to; even women we have no actual romantic or sexual interest in; even women we know we don’t have a chance in hell of even speaking to, anyway. It’s not just to get someone into bed (not that we’d mind, not that we’d mind); it’s to merit, at the very least, that look in a woman’s eye that says, “You know, that guy’s not bad.” Because this is what we’re thinking (well, let’s just say we’re a little more visceral about it) when we look at women all the time; it’s simply nice to have the positive appraisal reciprocated once in a while.

Therefore, ladies, when you see men like me preening or looking bewildered yet grimly determined in the facial cleanser aisle of your favorite personal care store, remember that we’re most likely doing it, ultimately, for you.

Now will you please stop laughing?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


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Man, Wolverine versus a Sentinel... just look at that.

All at once, I am reduced to a teenaged fanboy.

Monday, September 26, 2005

east of the sun, west of the moon

My favorite fairy-tale:

ONCE upon a time there was a poor husbandman who had many children and little to give them in the way either of food or clothing. They were all pretty, but the prettiest of all was the youngest daughter, who was so beautiful that there were no bounds to her beauty.

So once -- it was late on a Thursday evening in autumn, and wild weather outside, terribly dark, and raining so heavily and blowing so hard that the walls of the cottage shook again -- they were all sitting together by the fireside, each of them busy with something or other, when suddenly some one rapped three times against the window- pane. The man went out to see what could be the matter, and when he got out there stood a great big white bear.

"Good-evening to you," said the White Bear.

"Good-evening," said the man.

"Will you give me your youngest daughter?" said the White Bear; "if you will, you shall be as rich as you are now poor.

Truly the man would have had no objection to be rich, but he thought to himself: "I must first ask my daughter about this," so he went in and told them that there was a great white bear outside who had faithfully promised to make them all rich if he might but have the youngest daughter.

She said no, and would not hear of it; so the man went out again, and settled with the White Bear that he should come again next Thursday evening, and get her answer. Then the man persuaded her, and talked so much to her about the wealth that they would have, and what a good thing it would be for herself, that at last she made up her mind to go, and washed and mended all her rags, made herself as smart as she could, and held herself in readiness to set out. Little enough had she to take away with her.

Next Thursday evening the White Bear came to fetch her. She seated herself on his back with her bundle, and thus they departed. When they had gone a great part of the way, the White Bear said: "Are you afraid?"

"No, that I am not," said she.

"Keep tight hold of my fur, and then there is no danger," said he.

And it goes on, with elements of courage, determination and magic. Utterly wonderful.

*The quoted text is not written by me, by the way.

Friday, September 23, 2005

animal magic

Today I talked about animals and caring for pets at Sage’s school, talking to three groups of kids. Whenever I do this, I expect the kids to maul the poor rabbits when it’s time to get up and close. This time, I explained to them why the rabbit deserves gentler handling, launching into a role-playing scenario wherein they, the kids, were suddenly shook around violently.

DEAN: What happens when someone shakes shakes shakes shakes you and pulls at your ears?

KID: You die.

DEAN: … Yes.

The entire event was called Pet Day, an annual show-and-tell of animals that the children kept at home. Each child was told to bring a pet to school. Since majority of these kids come from affluent families, most came with pedigreed dogs and cats (the dogs in costumes and on leashes, while the cats regarded everything with ennui from their cages).

When I arrived, one of Sage’s teachers came up to me.

TEACHER: Sage was anxious yesterday.

DEAN: Why?

TEACHER: She said she didn’t have a pet to bring to school.

DEAN: Well, the place where we live is quite strict about animals. I do want her to have a dog though.

TEACHER: I reminded her that while her classmates were bringing one animal, her Daddy was bringing a pet store. So those are all her animals.

DEAN: Ah, yes.

And I did, so Sage was quite the popular kid. I brought rabbits, green turtles, parakeets, hamsters and betas over in their carriers, cages and bowls – and fielded questions left and right. Sage was my able and responsible assistant, showing off her ability to hold and cradle a rabbit properly, balance a turtle bowl in her hands and identify the hamster food. In the end, half of the animals I brought were sold (I made the equivalent of a day at the store) and everyone was happy.

Especially Sage, who, because she promised not to wiggle the bowl, is now the proud owner of a fighting fish – and her Yaya Lhen, who will soon have a pair of parakeets for the house.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

happiness is

My exposure to the horrors resulting from Hurricane Katrina has been only through TV, newspaper and the weekly new magazine - and blogs. Oddly enough, it was writer Poppy Z. Brite's entries, with her joy (and subsequent pain) of finding behind her cats she'd left behind (semiferal now, hence the alarming slash at her ear), that made it at last real to me.

There is an oddness to media -especially TV, to me - that renders everything I see there somehow less than real. Instead of providing a sense of immediacy, my perhaps-jaded eyes are instead further distanced. Maybe it's my way of dealing with the terrible tragedy, or maybe the snow queen's splinter has completely wormed its way into my heart, beyond my capacity to remove.

Anyway, Brite quoted a line from Peanuts (and somehow, I remember seeing this in a Peanuts calendar, I think, I'm not sure):

"The secret of happiness is having three things to look forward to and nothing to dread."

That gave me pause. Nothing to dread. It means that myself and everyone I know will never know happiness, if we subscribe to this aphorism. Thanks, Linus.

I'd rather go with the entire sappy lyrics of "Happiness Is" from "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown", if we need to have Peanuts Philosophy, particularly:

"Happiness is being alone every now and then, and happiness is coming home again."
But better is the Peanut Gallery Philosophy:

"Happiness is a choice; and right now, I choose to have a cigarette."

running the show

A friend of mine texted me last night: “I can actually get a sense of your stress levels by the frequency (or lack) of your blog posts”. True. I mean, look: it is 4AM and now is the only time I’m actually writing.

These past couples of weeks have been particularly stressful, and I can barely make time to write, guerilla-style or not. The demands of running my businesses take up a lot of my mental and actual time. There’s a lot to juggle just to keep things at an even keel. I’m just glad that I have a business partner to share the load with.

Some people look at me and are impressed by all the balls I manage to juggle and actually keep in the air. Let me tell you, there are times I honestly want to just…stop. Stop and let things fall where they may. Like most people, I came from a background of working for other people, and there are times when it is so tempting to go back to that world, where I don’t have to think too much. However, those times of weakness quickly pass and like the energizer bunny, I just keep on going. It is difficult for me to imagine going back, almost like a regression, to working for someone else. I’ve gotten used to the day-to-day challenges and (almost) thrive on the miniature anguish that varied clients and projects bring.

I tell my friends that prior to taking the plunge and becoming a businessman, my business acumen – on a scale from 1 to 10 – was in the negatives. I mean, come on. If you showed me a bunch of numbers then and my eyes would glaze over. I was used to thinking in words, and mathematics was anathema to me. I always thought I’d be an impoverished (but fulfilled) writer. But when I did take the entrepreneurial path, I found out that numbers, while important, where not the be-all end-all of business, and that there was a need for words as well as for the analytical part of my brain. There was room for all the silly things I picked up through books and conversations in my younger years, as well as space for stories. The entrepreneurial world teems with different tales: how someone tried this and failed, how someone tried that and succeeded, the origins of various businesses, how a supply chain was developed, "the strength of strong ties" and "strength of weak ties" (social networks), how someone knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who had the proper skill set or knowledge to make a start-up happen. Many, many stories that a storyteller like me could appreciate and learn from.

As it happens, I also encountered a number of “truisms” that in retrospect may not be truisms at all. These are stated in rather favorable, positive terms, but have an aspect that is never quite openly revealed – until you learn the secret lessons by actually living as an entrepreneur.

You work on your own time.

This is true in the sense that you can decide when you want to work, since the business belongs to you. However, in the case of my two primary businesses (the integrated marketing firm and the pet store only, because I don’t really consider the publishing a business per se), there is such a concept as business hours. The clients for Kestrel are corporate, brand and non-government organizations. They all adhere to business hours, which means that meetings, briefs, presentations, consultancies and like occur between 8AM and 6PM.

Also, I deal with suppliers – printers, color separators, publishers, computer software and hardware people, as well as a variety of service providers – that all operate during business hours. So obviously, I need to work during business hours. In addition, some of these clients and suppliers are in the US or some other part of the world, which means that the occasional midnight conference calls or briefs are par for course.

And that’s not all. As the owner/partner of the business, I think about the endeavor beyond office hours, which means that it spills into my time at home. In fact, there is never truly a time when I can put down my businessman’s hat (well, except when I’m crooning away at videoke). As for the pet store, it devours part of my weekend as well. And mall hours are longer than normal business hours (for the time being, Megamall closes at 10PM on weekends, for example) and while I do not man the pet store myself, I am on call should any of my salesladies have problems.

So do I determine my own time? Yes. But the truth is that it goes beyond the normal business hours, unlike the good people who whose work-time ends when its time to go home. And the thing is I choose to work longer than most people.

You are your own boss.

Sigh. While other people can apply to their bosses for a leave of absence, I cannot write to myself. While other people can run to their bosses for advice over difficulties encountered, I’m the one smack dab in the middle of things – if I don’t put out the fire, no one will. The buck stops with me. So while it great to be the boss, it also sucks big time when unpleasant things occur and I’m the father-figure, expected to know what to do. If I don’t know, I learn really fast. It’s a matter of survival.

So am I my own boss? Yes. But there are times, especially when my plate is filled to overflowing with various things that need to be done, that I wish I had a boss to run to. But that’s not going to happen, so teeter on the delightful edge of a vertiginous precipice and learn how to balance.

You pay yourself what you want.

Ah, the fallacy of unlimited compensation. When you are an employee, you have a sense of how much your services are worth – you do have a commensurate market rate. You spend time going up the salary ladder until you get the amount that you feel is proper and comfortable. When you are the owner of a business, you are acutely aware of the numbers – the entire backend of operations is exposed and you know that the money you want has to come from somewhere, which means more projects or sales. You work your ass off to provide just compensation for your employees and realize that, in the priority of things, your own compensation is somewhere down the totem pole of things.

Here’s a truth common to many of my entrepreneurial friends: the owner is usually the last person who gets a raise. Those who do not adhere to this kind of thinking usually do not last long. If your goal is to aggrandize yourself immediately, most likely your business will fail – because someone (you) is pillaging it. Entrepreneurs need to learn how to be patient, how to pour love, time and money into a business to make it grow. Return on Investment comes later.

Do I pay myself what I want? Yes, I do. I pay myself a salary commensurate to a professional of my level, skills and ability in the open market - if I didn't then having my own business wouldn't make sense. And like everyone else, I could always use more. The difference is I know I cannot pay myself more at this time, unlike others who can demand a raise every so often. The goal of every entrepreneur, whether stated openly or coyly unstated, is to be rich. I am not rich. Not by a long shot. But there is a plan. I just have to patient. And canny.

All you need is capital and a good idea.

Please. Of all the so-called “truisms”, this perhaps is most painful. It is not true. My previous business venture had capital in the millions of pesos and a boatload of good ideas and intentions. My partners and I burned our way through our war chest very quickly, despite our wonderful ideas, and ultimately closed shop after an exhausting (and costly but educational) run.

You need to have a multitude of business plans – not just one, but many, some developed as needs arise because circumstances will demand flexibility in how you think and run your business. You need to wade through all the paperwork required by government on a regular basis. You need to have good contacts and champion clients. You need to have reliable suppliers (ah, don’t me started on that one). You need to have clearly defined work processes – a design process, a management process, a project management process, a time management process. You need to develop a supply chain. You need to work out logistics. You need to manage your finances responsibly. You need to market your business, making client calls, getting your name out in the market. You need to be aware of market forces and dynamics. You need to know what you competitors are doing. You need to innovate, adapt and adjust to economic realities. You need to be lithe and not bogged down by the very processes you so painstakingly developed – when it is time to change. You need to balance incrementalism versus growtth.

Is it true that all I needed was capital and a good idea? Absolutely not. Unless you understand that you need to expand the definition of capital beyond money, and include intellectual capital, knowledge capital, network capital, and so on. Believe me, if all you needed was money (which can be raised in a number of ways), then social reality would be drastically different.

And so?

There are more, of course, but I’m getting sleepy. But despite all I’ve said, I wouldn’t exchange my current circumstances with a regular 9-to-5 job. I do wish for a lot of things like more time to write stories, plays, comics and novels, but the entrepreneurial path gives a high better than any drug. In this arena, my mind and ability to grow gets challenged at every turn – and that makes me a fulfilled man.

And somehow, I get to write anyway (and I actually think that I’d write less fruitfully if I had nothing else to do) – I get published on occasion and continue to win critical nods once in a while. I even get to put together creative projects that are an expression of my writerly agenda.

And I always have time for my wife and daughter.

So it all works out somehow (honestly, I don’t know how, but it does). I do want a vacation and there’s a trip to the US in December, so again it’s a matter of patience.

So despite the stress, I'm actually okay. And really, that's what matters.

(I think I will send myself a memo about that raise now - and hope for the best. LOL)

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


My bedside reading pile is starting to grow again, but I can't help it; I'm a compulsive reader (and book buyer). These texts, all new to me, are results of visits to the recent Book Fair, the usual sorties to Powerbooks and Fully Booked, unexpected finds at the Ateneo Press and Anvil offices, a couple of gifts from friends and, in the case of the Hopkinson, a tremendous find by Nikki. Normally, I read one book at a time, but this latest set makes me want to jump around from one text to another.

Infidels : A History of the Conflict Between Christendom and Islam by Andrew Wheatcroft- I cannot put this historical analysis down. Tracing the origins of the struggle between Muslims and Christians from the hazy first encounters to the current state of world affairs, it is an incredible repository of details and insight. The chapter on Spain/Al-Andalus alone is worth the price - and has inspired two new stories (one of which will be a retelling of the "The Tinderbox").

Gothic! : Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes - I love anthologies, and this collection of stories for young adults boasts an interesting roster of authors (Nix, Gaiman, Kiernan, Maguire).

The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson - My exposure to Hopkinson has been via her short fiction (courtesy of The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror) and both Nikki and I are big fans (we'd kill for a copy of Mojo: Conjure Stories). I'm curious to see how she writes a novel, if the quirkiness and texture that is her trademark is also present in long form.

The Mammoth Book of How It Happened : Eyewitness Accounts of Great Historical Moments from 2700 BC to AD 2005 edited by Jon E. Lewis - As reference material as well as for the pure thrill of new knowledge, I know I'll value this book. Various eyewitness accounts of events (both mundane and seminal) provide wonderful details rich for the mining.

Mouse or Rat: Translation As Negotiation by Umberto Eco - A book on translation by one of the finest minds of today makes for fascinating reading. Already, I'm thinking about the problems posed by intersemiotic translation (most recently done by Augie Rivera for one of plays).

Catherine de Medici : Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda - Yes, by now it should be obvious that I love history. I like it especially when it isn't dry facts but when it is viewed through the contextual lens of a life. In this case, it is 16th century Europe via the life of France's Queen.

Cogito Ergo Sum and other Musings on Science edited by Queenie Lee-Chua - A collection of fiction, journalism, essays and poetry viewing science from different perspectives, this Filipino anthology boasts a great roster of contributors, including Greg Brilliantes, Isagani Cruz, Shiela Coronel, Alberto Florentino, Luis Katigbak, Ma. Elena Paterno-Locsin (my crush!), Angelo Suarez, Eileen Tupaz, Krip Yuson and more.

The City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer - I'm not sure if I listed this one before, but it is my first novel by Vandermeer and it looks fascinating.

Great Philippine Jungle Energy Café by Alfred Yuson - At last, I can begin to make amends to Krip by reading his Palanca Award-winning novel.

Necessary Fictions by Caroline S. Hau
On the Subject of Nation by Caroline S. Hau

A two-book analysis on the relationship between Philippine Literature and nationalist discourse. I need to be better able to articulate my deep discomfort with social realism. Educated reading is the key.

White Elephants by Angelo R. Lacuesta - This is the latest (yet to be released to trade) collection of short fiction by Sarge Lacuesta, a fine writer and an old friend of mine. I'm including one of the pieces original to this collection, "New Wave Days", in my forthcoming Philippine Speculative Fiction antho. He's outstanding.

A set of all 10 new Lola Basyang (Severino Reyes) children's books published by Anvil - I got these for Sage. Anvil released 5 books last year and 5 books this year, and when I envinced interest during my meeting with Karina Bolasco of Anvil, she offered the set at a price I couldn't refuse. Sadly, the writing is uneven (and, in some cases, a direct retelling of Grimm/Andersen fairy tales) but two of them are illustrated by Elbert Or, a fine storyteller in his own right.

Fabulous Creatures And Other Magical Beings by Joel Levy - This irresistible oversize hardbound book is cleverly designed to simulate a collection of articles by the Cryptozoological Society of London. I love fantastic creatures, so this acquistion was a no-brainer.

Along my regular purchases of comics in pamphlet form and collected/trade editions (like the Legion of Superheroes Archives Vol. 9), I'm a happy reader.

I cannot imagine life without books.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Kestrel job openings: designers

Kestrel IMC, my integrated marketing communications company, is in the process of conducting hiring designers. Our client list includes Levi's, Dockers, Level Up Games!, Purefoods, Globe, San Miguel, Tagaytay Highlands, SM, and more.

We're looking for smart, talented people who have great visual and design sensibilities, who can use the standard suite of design programs (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc), and are willing to try their hand at a variety of projects.

Slots available: Junior Designer, Senior Designer. What does that mean? Well, in simple terms - little experience, very experienced.

Interested people can email me for details/schedule a portfolio review at this address: dean (at) kestrelimc (dot) com

Hope to hear from you soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

oh man...

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Ziyi Zhang as Nitta Sayuri in "Memoirs of a Geisha".

And Li Gong, one of my favorite actresses of all time, is there too.

I cannot wait.

down and up

I've been feeling down these past couple of days. My workload is rather hectic and the stress of juggling too many things is getting to me (I know, this is starting to sound like one of those angsty posts I avoid like the plague). I'm also feeling physically down, like a spent battery desperately needing a recharge.

It feels odd. As if in the swirl of things there is actually a sense of change a-coming. If I were a character in one of my stories, I'm scheduled for an epiphany any time soon.

Business is fine (the incoming projects are the primary source of my stress), and the pet store's sales are expected to improve in the coming months (the "Ber" months are always every merchant's most longed-for period in the year). A couple of weeks ago, Butch Dalisay wrote about writing as a living, and how, really, a writer cannot live from money earned via creative/literary writing alone. It's so true. Which is why, like him, I write for other people (one of the things that Kestrel, my marketing communications company, does). Literary writing becomes an escape, a means of keeping sane, proof that I still retain my devotion to words - even if I sell them. And there is money in writing for business, more than what you can get from literary writing; for example, when Nikki and I were writing and developing episodes for a Singapore-funded cartoon. In comparison, I still have hundreds of copies of the comics I produced a few years back.

More when I get back.

Life is funny: I had to leave off completing the nebulous post on top to attend a client meeting. On the way back, I get a call from VIVA Films - they are buying the rights to "Salamanca" officially (I know, it was always on the table, but now... wow). In addition, they want more stories, plays, scripts and comics to look at, from me. Is the change in my life...showbiz? Bwahahaha!

So my entire train of thought has been derailed. For now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

podcast podcast podcast

My goodness! I honestly didn't know much about podcasts, but I just got an email from Rickey who told me that he and Manong Guard featured me, Nikki and Sage on their blog show, Live from USA.Philippines. That's just so neat!

So I went and downloaded the mp3 file and had a blast.

The latest pod episode (podisode?) also features Manong Guard talking endlessly about food (damn it, I got so hungry just listening - except for the piss-smelling mami and the pasty palabok he mentions). It's a surreal experience listening to two guys I've known through various contexts, like Magic and business, talking about pares and blogs.

Go and download all 10 previous episodes!

Thanks, Rickey and Manong Guard!

tarzan boy and other musical closet skeletons

I almost choked to death laughing as Nikki and I read snurri’s version of this meme. Here’s the thing: go to this site. Look for the search box on the left. Fill it in with the year that you graduated high school. Click open the first search result – it will have a 100 songs. Now cut and paste that and comment on the songs from your wasted youth. Like snurri, I opted to bold the songs I like but I italicized the ones I hate. I did not format the ones I don’t remember at all (because, I realize, blogger only allows bold and italics and I can't be bothered to code anything else).

Okay, first thing: this was not my favorite year for music. That’s a toss up between 1983, 1984 and 1985 – my first three years in high school. Oh my god, wasn’t music just cool? It meant so much to be able to listen to the radio and own an extended vinyl version of a record. But still, 1986 wasn’t so bad – in fact, the entire 80’s are (inevitably) my favorite time for music. But where are the bands I really loved? Where are Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, The Cure, New Order?

Enough stalling. Let’s go!

1. That's What Friends Are For, Dionne Warwick, Elton John, and Gladys Knight - Argh! First song off and I have to confess that I like this sappy song. I can't help it - I even secretly want my entire karaoke group to perform it onstage. I know, I know. But I there's this part I really like...

2. Say You, Say Me, Lionel Richie - Eh. Apart from "All Night Long", I didn't care for Lionel Richie. There is a certain saccharine quality I find okay, but this is not it.

3. I Miss You, Klymaxx - Eh? I don't know this. But what a band name. It's not just the bash-your-brains-in subtlety, but it reminds me of this MArvel villain, Zzzzaxxx!

4. On My Own , Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald - Feh. Too much.

5. Broken Wings, Mr. Mister - I love this song! It has enough drama, and, with "Kyrie", has a neat video (if I remember right).

6. How Will I Know, Whitney Houston - Nah. It's one of those generic dance thingies - but I do know it.

7. Party All The Time, Eddie Murphy - Boring. Eddie Murphy should stick to acting. On second thought, scratch that.

8. Burning Heart, Survivor - What's this? I have no clue. Let's sing "Eye of the Tiger" instead. Hit it!

9. Kyrie, Mr. Mister - Yahoo! This is a great song. I remember mangling the words but singing anyway (which is the best way to sing -choke- which is with your heart -choke-)

10. Addicted To Love, Robert Palmer - Dull song but loved the video. All those tall, pouty girls, swaying with guitars, in black. Sigh.

11. Greatest Love Of All, Whitney Houston - My cousin, Kim, does a knockout version of this song, and so of course I tried and died at the high notes.

12. Secret Lovers, Atlantic Starr - Huh?

13. Friends And Lovers, Carl Anderson and Gloria Loring - Eh?

14. Glory Of Love, Peter Cetera - This is the Karate Kid theme, right? If it is, then I know it but didn't like it. Wax on, Wax off - Pat Morita, we love you.

15. West End Girls, Pet Shop Boys - That's more like it. I especially like the recitative/rap first part: "Sometimes you're better off dead..."

16. There'll Be Sad Songs, Billy Ocean - I do not like you, Billy Ocean.

17. Alive And Kicking, Simple Minds - Yes! I love these guys. Whatever happened to them?

18. Never, Heart - Haha, why does Carrie Underwood immediately come to mind? Because I prefer "Alone" to "Never" (though they both have the same subtext). Ah, big hair.

19. Kiss, Prince and The Revolution - This was before he converted his name to a symbol (to further muddy the already confused waters of semiotic discourse). This was neat, but I prefer the Tom Jones/Art of Noise cover - manlier, with balls.

20. Higher Love, Steve Winwood - Eh?

21. Stuck With You, Huey Lewis and The News - Why don't I know this? I know the other Huey Lewis songs!

22. Holding Back The Years, Simply Red - Ah, one of Vin's fave videoke songs. Love it.

23. Sledgehammer, Peter Gabriel - Cool vid, but really blah.

24. Sara, Starship - Sarah o'Hara, I don't like you. "We Built This City" is anthemic, you're, a girl.

25. Human, Human League - Despite the sappy bridge ("when you were human, I was human too"), it's quite cool. But really, there are better Human League songs.

26. I Can't Wait, Nu Shooz - I Can't Remember

27. Take My Breath Away, Berlin - Cool and sexy. Oh yeah.

28. Rock Me Amadeus, Falco - Sheer madness and genius, like the film.

29. Papa Don't Preach, Madonna - Years later, Nikki and I are watching an Irish film (or a film with an Irish family). The pregnant daughter, afraid to tell her father, gets drunk and sings this with fucking hilarious results. And yes, Madonna rocks. Nikki and I want "Like A Prayer" concert frocks - to dance like maenad priests and nuns.

30. You Give Love A Bad Name, Bon Jovi - Sorry, I don't like Bon Jovi.

31. When The Going Gets Tough, Billy Ocean - I still don't like you, Billy Ocean.

32. When I Think Of You, Janet Jackson - What's this? Where's "If"? Now that's a speculative fiction video. Watch "If". "If" rulez.

33. These Dreams, Heart - Good, but still - "Alone" forever!

34. Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone), Glass Tiger - Neato.

35. Live To Tell, Madonna - Of course I like this. But sadly, I stopped liking Mads after "Rain". Where's "Rain"? It had Ryuichi Sakamoto. Watch "Rain". "Rain" rulez.

36. Mad About You, Belinda Carlisle - She went solo and had this, and another one, then vanished, pudgy and all. But we loved the Gogos, didn't we?

37. Something About You, Level 42 - Cool. There are two other great songs from the same album, but not much else.

38. Venus, Bananarama - Infectious. I hear this, I dance. Sage looks at me in horror.

39. Dancing On The Ceiling, Lionel Richie - No, thank you.

40. Conga, Miami Sound Machine - Tongue-twisting lyrics and fast beat = party

41. True Colors, Cyndi Lauper - I prefered "SheBop" to Cyndi's slow songs. Still, she had her own thing going - until she sang out of a trash can ("Money Changes Everything" during a concert) and I jsut gave up. I wanted sexy glamour not shabby shit.

42. Danger Zone, Kenny Loggins - What's this, the Top Gun support group? I like Loggins ("Heart to Heart") but this was boring.

43. What Have You Done For Me Lately, Janet Jackson - She can dance, she can.

44. No One Is To Blame, Howard Jones - I like Hojo ("New Song") and this wasn't bad.

45. Let's Go All The Way, Sly Fox - Eh?

46. I Didn't Mean To Turn You On, Robert Palmer - What's this? Did it have tall Nordic blondes in blakc dresses too? Because if so, damn.

47. Words Get In The Way, Miami Sound Machine - Feh.

48. Manic Monday, Bangles - Cool. You'd hear people singing along the school corridors.

49. Walk Of Life, Dire Straits - Princess Di's favorite band. This one had a hokey feel. Not for me.

50. Amanda, Boston - Who are you, Amanda?

51. Two Of Hearts, Stacey Q - Nikki, I think, knows this. I don't.

52. Crush On You, Jets - Nice and boppy. "I found out..."

53. If You Leave, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - Wow! An OMD song! I love OMD! This must be from "Pretty in Pink". Ugh. Molly Ringwald. Ugh. But OMD! Wow!

54. Invisible Touch, Genesis - Yeah, okay. Song doesn't really go anywhere, but okay.

55. The Sweetest Taboo, Sade - Teehee. When BJ was alive, during one of our Magic games he played an all Kavu deck (Kavu is a monster type) called "The Sweetest Kavu". Man, I miss my cousin.

56. What You Need, INXS - See? How can I enjoy Rockstar when I don't even know this song? And what makes people think that INXS was that huge anyway?

57. Talk To Me, Stevie Nicks - No, because I don't know you.

58. Nasty, Janet Jackson - She's hot.

59. Take Me Home Tonight, Eddie Money - Eh?

60. We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off, Jermaine Stewart - I'd really really really rather go home now, thank you, Jermaine.

61. All Cried Out, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam With Full Force - Not the song I know.

62. Your Love, Outfield - Huh?

63. I'm Your Man, Wham! - Eek! "Freedom" nalang!

64. Perfect Way, Scritti Politti - Coolness! Jasmin Jamora introduced me to this helium-voiced band. I also loved "Wood Beez"

65. Living In America, James Brown - Ignorant in the Philippines

66. R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A., John Cougar Mellencamp - bleh

67. Who's Johnny, El Debarge - Awww. I remember you. Aww.

68. Word Up, Cameo - Eh?

69. Why Can't This Be Love, Van Halen - Eh? There was life after "Jump"? ;)

70. Silent Running, Mike and The Mechanics - No, no, where's "All I Need is a Miracle"?

71. Typical Male, Tina Turner - okay, yes, she's hot.

72. Small Town, John Cougar Mellencamp - feh.

73. Tarzan Boy, Baltimora
- OMG, I'm guilty of bellowing out the Tarzanic chorus. Sheesh.

74. All I Need Is A Miracle, Mike and The Mechanics - Here it is! Here it is! Yay!

75. Sweet Freedom, Michael McDonald - Eh?

76. True Blue, Madonna - Sadly, this was quite boring.

77. Rumors, Timex Social Club - Haha, I remember dancing at Mars at longing for Dolly Duran.

78. Life In A Northern Town, Dream Academy - Really cool. It sounded unique.

79. Bad Boy, Miami Sound Machine - Trippy.

80. Sleeping Bag, ZZ Top - Eh? Aren't these two two huge guys with beards?

81. Tonight She Comes, Cars - Boring.

82. Love Touch, Rod Stewart - sorry, Rod. I've got a headache.

83. A Love Bizarre, Sheila E. - I guess she drummed her way in this, but it really doesn't really ring a bell.

84. Throwing It All Away, Genesis - Huh?

85. Baby Love, Regina - If this is the remake of the "Baby Love" I know, then I love it.

86. Election Day, Arcadia - Sob. This was during the time when Duran Duran sort of split up into Arcadia and Powerstation. I was such a Duranie in high school, even trying to make sense of their senseless lyrics. This one had atmosphere and Le Bon's trademark whining. Love it.

87. Nikita, Elton John - Yawn.

88. Take Me Home, Phil Collins - Eh? I think Jaime knows this.

89. Walk This Way, Run-D.M.C. - Eh?

90. Sweet Love, Anita Baker - I feel like I know this - how does it start?

91. Your Wildest Dreams, Moody Blues - Aww. I remember you too.

92. Spies Like Us, Paul McCartney - Sorry, can't recall.

93. Object Of My Desire, Starpoint - Huh?

94. Dreamtime, Daryl Hall - Not as memorable as their earlier songs but okay.

95. Tender Love, Force M.D.'s - I suspect it's the ballad but how can that be with Force M.D.?

96. King For A Day, Thompson Twins - TT had a good sound.

97. Love Will Conquer All, Lionel Richie - No, no, no. And not just because it's you, Lionel, who says so.

98. A Different Corner, George Michael - Okay

99. I'll Be Over You, Toto - There is an entire Toto song backlist waiting to be exploited for videoke night.

100. Go Home, Stevie Wonder - eh?

Gah! I'm way over my lunch break. But really, take a look at 1983-1985 and you'll see very good song is there.

Back to the grind now.

Monday, September 12, 2005

bottled places: running after aurora

: running after aurora

She’s framed by the pillars of the Gateway Station of the LRT line when I find her, smoking a slender cigarette exactly as I was briefed she would be, exhaling equally thin wisps of grey from her thin lips. The train stopped moving hours ago, but there is the echo of motion, surrounding her like a phantom embrace. At first sight, she is a disappointment, all skin and bones covered by clothing old enough to have become fashionable again. She is slim in a way that is not flattering, and her hair is cropped, jagged darkness. Against the backdrop of the train’s supporting structure, she is as small as a child, dwarfed and reduced in context to just another background detail. It is only when I’m close enough to touch her that she looks up, looks at me and I am caught in the intensity of her eyes.

“It’s fifty pesos for a handjob, a hundred for a blowjob, and three hundred for a fuck.” The words exit her mouth in a dull cadence, like soldiers performing the same pointless maneuvers, practiced, polished and fatigued beyond expectation. “Midnight special.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, turning my face away. “I did not come for any of that.”

“You won’t find any cheaper around here,” she says, leaning over to scratch the backside of her knee. “Except for Luneta, but there’s a difference between those who do it to live and those who do it out of desperation. And that slut is so far away. And she’s sick, sicker than you can imagine.”

“Aurora?” At my question, she stiffens, pulls herself up to her full height, which could be no more than a few inches past five feet. “Are you Aurora?”

“Who wants to know?” Our eyes meet again, the ennui in hers replaced by suspicion and fear; I try to hide the sadness in mine.

“A friend,” I tell her, keeping my voice even and colorless. During the rigorous training regimen I undertook when I was promoted, it was drilled into my head to never give them a reason to run. Because Roads, when they run, are very difficult to catch. I remember asking my handler if he was joking. It seemed obvious to me that a Road could not go beyond where it began or ended. The stinging rebuke that I received, accompanied by a broken cheekbone that took a month to heal and an official memo from upstairs, instilled in me the incorruptible truth that there was precious little we knew about Roads.

Her bony frame tenses. “I don’t need friends.”

“Please,” I say, extending an empty hand towards her. “I just want to talk, to help you remember.”

“Fuck off,” she snarls. Then she runs.

Her form blurs and for an instant becomes a wraith, like the notion of something not quite there but with enough detail to cause doubt. And she is gone, leaving behind shimmering afterimages that dissolve into the night air split-seconds behind her, a fading trail of luminescense.

I focus and let my feet move, stomping my right foot first then my left, heel downward at a slant, the prescribed initial dance steps of pursuit. Moving Roads may be difficult to catch, but not impossible, not anymore. As buildings twist around me, I am visited again by the nausea provoked by my actions. I swallow the sourness and run after her.

I’m chasing Aurora. I’m pursuing a Boulevard. I’m trembling and having the time of my life.

Around me, the distortion grows. Structures, people and cars fade, replaced by swaths of colors. Where Roads travel is confusing and dangerous. I blink my eyes and focus on her undeniable trail, words already composing and arranging themselves into sentences in head, as if I had already caught up with her. As if I had already caught her.

Aurora was beautiful once, clean and bright and hopelessly filled with hope…

I do not notice the direction she is running towards, caught up in the imagery of my composition (oh, how I long to stop and write, bottle be damned). Old Man Cubao’s attention is elsewhere, that much I relied on. He wouldn’t bother with me. He wouldn’t bother with us. Too late I realize that she’s running towards someone else.

“Ed!” I hear her shout.

“Shit,” I say under my breath, realizing the inevitable intersection she tore towards. I see him too late, as in one fluid motion he takes her to one side with an arm corded with muscle and strikes at my face with a fist that seems larger than the moon. I feel my nose break and I scream, falling to the ground in pain. There is no love lost between cruel EDSA and myself. During our first and only encounter he had proven himself more than my match.

EDSA pounds at me again and I taste blood in my mouth. I lose count of the times I’m struck, curling myself into a ball in a vain effort to protect the rest of my face from his hands. He is relentless; I think I’m dying.

“Stop, Ed!” I hear Aurora’s voice through the red haze. “Enough. Enough!”

He listens to her and I am left to my spasms. I hear them talking but cannot make out anything they’re saying. Then I feel EDSA’s presence, physical and powerful, beside me, his mouth brushing my ear.

“The third time we meet will be the last.” His voice is vast and true, invading my mind before I give in to unconsciousness. “Do you understand? The Places may permit your intrusion, but the Roads will never submit. Tell your masters that.”

It is dawn when I come to. I struggle to stand and take an inventory of the throbbing mass of my face. My nose is a node of pain and my left eye cannot stop twitching. Miraculously, my notebook is intact. Part of me cannot believe two things: first, that I survived EDSA; and second, that no one took anything in the hours while I lay helpless along Aurora Boulevard.

I sit at a curb, find an empty page and write, determined at the very least to record my impressions on Aurora and the savage thing that happened afterwards.

What one finds at unexpected intersections of lives…

“Don’t,” a voice interrupts. I look upwards and see Aurora standing across the street, smoking a cigarette, her face impassive.

I try to say something. How I meant her no harm. How she didn’t have to run. Not from us. Not from me.

“Just leave.” Rail-thin, she exhales the words as smoke.


For the next installment of Bottled Places, visit The Brass Buddha this Thursday, then come back here next week for more.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

15 seconds and all that

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sunday inquirer

I woke up today (groggily, since Nikki and I slept at 5AM after an evening’s worth of crooning with friends) to a small flood of congratulatory messages on my PDA (thanks, everyone!). Today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer has a feature on the Palanca winners in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine (“RP Literature’s Main Attractions) and I, along with my malong, am there.

It was a relief to see that the end result of the pictorial was not as terrible as I thought it would be (this shows that a skilled photographer like Raffy Lerma can make anyone look good) so my mother can, emboldened, show off to her friends – like all proud mothers are wont to do. It was great reading about the other winners, people I met during the awards night, especially the uber-talented Joel Toledo and the “I-warned-you-my-play-was-depressing” Alvin Dacanay.
His Novel Approach
by Ruel S. De Vera

There are many unexpected, perhaps even fantastic things about Dean Francis Alfar. He is, after all, very particular about definitions. The tall 36-year-old is a partner at Kestrel IMC, an integrated marketing communications company, as well as the publisher of Kestrel Studios, which publishes comic books locally, what Dean refers to as “grafiction”.

Yet the standout quality in Dean goes beyond his being a passionate, prize-winning comic creator or a comic book fan. It goes beyond the malong he occasionally wears to formal affairs – such as the awards night. “I am of Muslim descent, from the Alonto clan of Lanao. I’m actually a datu, and my Muslim name is Salahuddin Alonto. I was raised as a Christian but am proud of my Muslim heritage. The malong I wear bears the colors and patterns of my family.”

The confident, opinionated UP graduate wrote drama under the tutelage of the late Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero, and gravitated to fiction about the fantastic, like science fiction and fantasy, what he called “speculative fiction”. Dean says “our country has a long tradition of the fantastic, with the old stories, myths and legends of times past. I believe that the fantastic is part of the Filipino culture, and deserves a place in Filipino literature as well.”

It goes beyond the eight – eight!- Palanca Awards he’s won, or the fact that his wife Nikki won her own Palanca this year (third in Short Story for Children). Is an Alfar writing dynasty in the offing? “Already, our daughter Sage (who is 3) is making up stories on her own. I wouldn’t be surprised –in fact, I’d be delighted- if she took after her parents. However, that’s her choice to make in the future – but we can hope our genetic code kicks in,” he laughs.

It’s in that Dean has won the prestigious Grand Prize for Novel, which is only handed out every four years, and he is incredibly grateful and humbled by the company of other novel winners. “I actually feel like one of my characters, living in a magic realist scenario. It’s surreal in a good way.” He wrote “Salamanca” as part of National Novel Writing Month, where authors all over the world would attempt to complete a novel in a month’s time. Dean wrote after work every day last November and the product was “Salamanca”, which he describes as revolving around “the love story of two people, beginning in Palawan in the 1950s and ending 50 years later in Manila.” Up next for the busy Dean will be more speculative fiction, including an anthology from Filipino authors, more comic books, keeping his blog hopping ( and perhaps another novel. Now that is certainly something fantastic. RSDV

A short excerpt from the novel follows. Thanks, Ruey (though a small correction is in order: the Novel prize is given once every three years, not four)!

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The Malong Man (for Pauline, who demanded it)


Dr. Cirilo Bautista’s column in today’s issue of the Philippine Panorama (the Sunday magazine of the Manila Bulletin), also goes into my “clip-and-save-to-look-at-when-I’m-old-and-grey-and-need-a-little-kick”. It seems to have been written in between the time the judges of the novel category (which he headed) determined the results and the time they found out just who they awarded the prize to. Aside: The entries and manuscripts to the competition are stripped of any reference to their authors, to guarantee impartiality on the judges’ part; recently, even pen names have been removed – replaced by numbers – because certain authors use the same pen name year after year thus rendering the entire system of blind entries moot.

In “Looking for the Year’s Novel”, Bautista tells us that “in this year’s Palanca contest for novel in English, there are 15 entries. This is quite an impressive output from our writers, considering the almost moribund state of novel writing in the country. In the past, there would only be two or three submissions to this category.” The number of entries impressed the judges, enough for them “to suggest to the sponsors that three prizes, instead of only one, be given in this division.”

He then proceeds to enumerate the titles of all 15 entries – an intriguing list: Tiamat Setting, Couple Weeks, The Ghost Projects, Star, A Midnight’s Daughter, Wrestling Salvador Resurreccion, Letters to Matrimony, Out of Doors, The Tragic Theater, Abstract, The Last Full Moon, People on Guerrero Street, Samboangan – the Cult of War, and The Transgressors, plus Salamanca. During my conversation with judge Tony Hidalgo at the awards night, he told me that Abstract, in particular, was very good (and that he suspected it was written by Charleson Ong, one of the writer/teachers when I was at university).

Bautista continues:

They reflect a wide range of subjects and a variety of fictional techniques. As for the former, there are narratives about intergalactic occurrences, romance of common people, ghosts that haunt an international film center, a battle in the south between Spaniards and Filipinos, and the magical and unique affair of a writer and his ideal love.

As for the latter, there is the use of epistolary technique. One novel employs an exchange of letters between a man and a woman to delineate the progress of their relationship. Another uses the methods of science fiction to portray the adventures of characters caught in a conflict in a desolate and forbidding world. Several novels use the traditional chronological and flashback timeframes to capture the significance of commonplace realities or draw a sharp commentary on history.

The writer of “Salamanca”, in particular, seems to have learned from the techniques of the modern South American writers in terms of rendering dramatic situations and fusing image and idea. Consider the opening passages…

At this point, Bautista quotes two passages from the novel. He then concludes:
There are many other brilliant passages in the novel through which the author links incidents together and convinces us about the very verisimilitude of the threads of fantasy that have been woven in the story. The materials have been successfully fictionalized, thus, satisfying the readers’ aesthetic demand.

That cannot be said of some of the entries which do not have the requirements of fictional narrative because they are simply autobiographical narratives or belabored short stories.

I am happiest about the fact that the elements of the fantastic that I worked in, that are in tune with my advocacy for speculative fiction, were noticed – and rewarded.

Plus, there was a sci fi novel in the mix. That's fantastic!

philippine star

Last Monday's issue of the Star had Krip Yuson’s take on the Palancas – in which he could not help but slip into the literary equivalent of a society column (like I did, it’s inevitable, sadly) but with the most personal of touches.

There’s a nice picture of Nikki and myself, along with (in his words) “the lucky tapis”. LOL

Saturday, September 10, 2005

weekend features

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Okay, I must confess I went to the Meralco Theater as a guest of Nikki’s (in fact, she’s written about this too, so head on over there after this) with very low expectations. I mean, come on, Jay-R in the lead role? That skinny bald dervish endorser of Sun Cellular? Please.

However, I left a convert. This guy is so talented, it’s frightening. He can sing, dance (he is so fluid, so natural and so male – you know how some dancers subvert their outward masculinity and betray their sexual orientation, which of course is not a bad thing so get off my case) and act. Plus he speaks well, due to his upbringing in the US. Whenever he was onstage, there was energy and magic.

Sadly, apart from Audie Gemora and Agot Isidro-Sandejas, the cast was lackluster. They were just too young and inexperienced, albeit energetic. Chari Arespochaga’s direction was erratic, with baffling blocking (we had great seats in the orchestra, by the way) and many questionable staging choices.

Musically, it also sounded like a hodgepodge of things. The film soundtrack is represented, with all the familiar pop songs (Holding Out for a Hero, Let’s Hear it for the Boy, plus the eponymous title track). But the addition of “Broadway-esque” songs were jarring (you know this kind, it’s the kind of song made fun of in Spamalot’s “The Song that Goes like This”).

However, as a whole, the play was entertaining, a pleasant diversion on a Saturday afternoon. What saved it was Jay-R and the fantastic crab sandwiches and barbeque over at the snack counter.

It did get me thinking of the next full-length play I'll write. It'll be a music-less musical with lots of dancing that ends in tears (that's what I get for reading Alvin's play).

the brothers grimm

Go and watch this film by Terry Gilliam. Really. Just do it. You’ll love the performances of Matt Damon and Heath Ledger in this sumptuously rendered story about a pair of charlatan brothers in 19th century Germany who use fairy tales/marchen to fill their pockets. Things change when what they thought was make-believe turns out to be something terrifying real.

Given the fact that Nikki and I are fairy tale junkies, it was inevitable that we’d like it. We stayed for the end credits just to applaud the screenwriter and the production designer. It is not to every critic's taste, but fuck them - it's so much better than the recent mass market drivel.

Trust the toad!

Friday, September 09, 2005

return of the tv zombies

It's true. The only thing that matches my unhealthy obsession with Pokemon (and it seems that my adoration for Pikachu has been genetically passed on to my daughter, who now has four of them, ranging in size from small milk bottle to junior bean bag) is my addiction to reality TV.

After the joy of this year's American Idol (hey, Rickey! hey ConCon girls!), Nikki and I have been rather depressed, with only America's Next Top Model to tide us by (and just so you know, our pick, Yoanna House, won). You know you're desperate when you're happy watching that aired last March. To get me through, I watched my DVD set of Survivor All Stars again and again. I even watched Ambush Makeover and Change of Heart, for heaven's sake. Pirate Billy eased my junkie pain with some other things, but the weekly thrill just wasn't there, and I missed the sense of "at-the-edge-of-seat-oh-my-god-what's-going-to-happen-next-you-dumb-fuck!".

Oh, but this month on free TV (because our stupid Destiny Cable doesn't have AXN or Starworld) marks the return of two our favorite reality franchises: Survivor: Guatemala and The Amazing Race 8. And the Martha Stewart edition of The Apprentice is just around the corner (I know because we bought spots for one of our clients on the show). Just like wrestling, I like the staged "reality" of it all, and look for moments when the TV text subverts itself - sort of like deconstructive TV viewing, if I must be all intelligent and hackels-raised defensive about it. But really, I'm not, I'm just a hapless zombie.

And a very happy couch potato.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

vignette: shadow of the higante

As he stood with his back to the edge of the balcony, slowly transforming the sadness of his past and the perfection of his intentions into the words of a poem, Picaro Marviloso did not hear the nearby flapping of cloth caught by the sea breeze, did not see the gigantic shadow that fell across his face, and was surprised by the sudden twisting of his head (to him, the crack when his neck broke was the loudest sound in the world, louder than any denial, louder than thunder).

As he was flung to the ground by the impossibly tall figure standing just beyond his balcony, the poet thought briefly of the following things: that he was dying, that regret always came late, and how there was truly nothing poetic in death, especially if it was your own.

The three people on the streets below who witnessed the shocking death of Picaro Marviloso that night would all agree that a higante - a giant - had come to Ciudad Meoira, plucked the famous dissolute poet from his balcony, twisted his head between its massive fingers then hurled the man thirty feet to the ground below. After all, what else but a giant could cast so tremendous a shadow that all three swore to seeing?


“I know it sounds absurd but that is what we saw,” the flustered man repeated miserably. “I know you don’t believe us.”

Veronica Bunsong-Buwan, the detective-in-charge, shook her head and finished taking the last of the witnesses’ statements. She had been summoned only minutes after the startling murder was reported and had lost no time in finding her way to the site of the crime. She had looked carefully at the remains of Picaro Marviloso and ascertained that he was dead before he struck the ground, his head cruelly twisted from back to front.

The Tiq’Barang stretched to her full height and fought off her fatigue. Like most of her race she could endure more than men, but when Tiq’Barang tire, they needed to rest longer than anyone, and Veronica had just returned from an especially long investigation at the Ispancialo garrisons in the dark Iluko region. She absentmindedly rubbed the end of her equine snout and took some time to review what she had already noted.

To the eyes of any man, Veronica Bunsong-Buwan was a creature of contrasts. She was indisputably beautiful, her cropped fur was the color of kapé mixed with cream, darkening to the purest chocolate towards her hands and hooves, but her intimidating size and scale dwarfed the tallest of men. She stood almost ten feet tall and the colorful cloak of the guardia civil did little to hide her massive shoulders, yet her eyes, a pale liquid grey, betrayed an air of either deep kindness or knowing sorrow.

She was raised in the faith of the Ispancialo and rose quietly up the ranks of the clergy. Her inquisitive mind and natural powers of observation and deduction earned her the position of ecclesiastical investigadór, responsibly handling sensitive internal matters that the Church of the Tres Hermanas preferred to remain secret, earning a reputation for solving the impossible, until that particular night when she had to make a painful choice between loyalty and truth.

The guardia civil were more than happy to catch her at the terminus of her fall from grace, and added her to their ranks with understated pride, for already she was known to possess one of the finest minds in all of Hinirang.

A mind that was perplexed by current situation that her notes did nothing to

Ser Miguel Lucas Jaena, a junior guardia assigned to learn from her, asked her if she agreed that it was a giant.

“There are no higantes in Ciudad, Ser Jaena,” she said while scribbling down her thoughts. “If there was a giant here, where would this higante hide? Why is it that no one saw her anywhere else?

The young man shrugged his shoulders, at a loss for words.

Veronica Bunsong-Buwan pointed to the narrow streets lined with towers and residences similar to those of Picaro Marviloso. “And just how did this higante fit into these streets without damaging any other balcony, wall or feature?”

“I don’t know,” the young guardia conceded. “Which is why I can’t wait for you to solve this mystery.”

“Before we talk of giants, we must first establish why anyone would want to kill the most beloved poet of Ciudad. There are steps to these things, you know.” Veronica smiled as Ser Jaena blushed.

"Now then," she said as she stood to her full height. “Shall we continue our investigation?”

our own voice

(updated with corrections)

The fall issue of Our Own Voice is up, with a special focus on the act of writing. There's a lot to read, so get started.

Aileen Ibardaloza , of the Editorial Board, recommends:

Writing: A Blog Abecedary By Dean Francis Alfar (thanks, Aileen!)
It wasn't until after my daughter Sage was born that I began to blog in earnest. I named it "Notes from the Peanut Gallery", thinking it would be an outlet for expression, a way of commenting on my life and the world around me ...

Writing in the New Publishing Paradigm By Cantara Christopher
Once you launch your work into cyberspace, it immediately becomes part of the permanent body of human knowledge. Your work is indexable, google-able, findable, sendable, shareable, judgeable ...

Interview with author Sabina Murray

Interview with author Nadine Sarreal

Bernie Aragon Jr. Looks for Love By Veronica Montes, Ivy Terasaka 2005 Short Story Competition First Prize

And I'd like to add:

Of First Marathons and First Novels by Zarina Natividad Docken.

All these and more from Editor Remé-Antonia Grefalda.

a reader writes

I received a wonderful letter from Dr. Caroline Hau who just finished reading Salamanca. You know the thing I mentioned earlier about how, ultimately, what really matters is when someone reads something you wrote? Well, in addition to recommendations on publishers for the book, she said:

"I just finished reading your wonderful novel "Salamanca"--really loved it. It's mindblowing and sets the bar high for the novels to come."

She, to poet/author/lit crit Paolo Manalo, is what Neil Gaiman is to everyone else (it's true - "In the fields of Philippine literary and nationalist studies, Carol Hau is a rockstar.").

From Paolo, on Dr. Hau's recent visit and lecture on the Philippine novel in English:

Her erudition showed in her articulation and even in her humor. The audience most appreciated the side comments that she made concerning the novels that one should be reading, and to the complaint that students of Philippine literature don't read enough Philippine literature. "Maybe because they're not worth reading." She even said that she'd give a list of novels that one shouldn't read, like a required nonreading list. The audience laughed, but I'm sure, given her research on the 240 novels written in English from 1921-2004, she isn't kidding.

And the neatest thing for me? She will be writing a blurb for Salamanca, when it gets published by whoever publishes it (I'm meeting with the lovely folk of the Ateneo Press tomorrow, with Anvil next week, and with UP Press after).

Again and again, what matters is that you are read.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

the youngest writing Alfar

Sage can write!

And really, Nikki and I were breathless with delight!

And to think (choke) ... she was just a baby...

Gah. I'm getting all teary-eyed again.

spit and polish

I've been invited to submit stories for consideration to a "hush-hush" short fiction pub populated by amazing authors. Since I had no real new pieces, I polished up a couple of older ones (written a few months ago) and sent them off. Neither of them fit into my speculative fiction agenda thingie, but you know, I don't write in that mode exclusively anyway (or actually, I could argue that they're interstitial whatever, but naaaah).

Both stories were developed and written almost completely on this blog (I've retitled one), which fulfills the "exercise notebook" part of my blog's reason for existence. While most people of my age deplore the loss of the pen, I now praise the age of the laptop - I'm certain that I wouldn't be writing as often if I had to sit down and scrawl something down on paper with my chicken scratch handwriting (my hand aches within minutes, and it becomes a matter of physical inability, or rather, my low tolerance for repeated painful activity).

So are the stories good enough? As the author who constantly advises friends to "never fall in love with your text", I can at least say that they're competitive. They're small experiments in form and tone, but I think my voice is still there. Julian Barnes (author of Flaubert's Parrot), on writing: "Don't do it assuming that the result will ever satisfy you." Which explains in part why I am never truly happy with anything I write. I've just learned to let go after a while, because I cannot spit and polish the same piece all my life (my wife and my friends can tell you how I cringe when faced with my early work).

Besides, in situations like this it all boils down to the selecting editor's taste. As usual, if my stories aren't accepted, it is not the end of the world. There are other markets to try, and I am never one to be devastated by initial rejection.

Someone asked me "Aren't you guaranteed publication, being an awardee and all?". I just had to laugh. Remember, awards and shit are nice and all, but mean nothing when you're talking about your latest story being polished and sent off for consideration. Especially for US publications where your national level credentials mean nothing at all.

What matters is the story - which is how things should be. I love the competition.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

speculative fiction antho update

After talking to my designer and the printer, I found out that I actually had room, page-wise, for two more stories (my initial ultra-conservative assessment was simply too conservative).

Now of course I had already sent out letters to everyone informing them about their status, but I wasn't about to let a little embarassment ("nakakahiya naman, e nasabihan ko na sila") stop me from contacting the authors of the two stories I wanted to add to the antho. Remember my list of "Honorable Mentions"? There was a pair of stories that I cut out initially, mostly due to the page restrictions. Well, I called both authors up and explained the situation. I'm happy to say that both authors agreed to be included.

And so, thank you and welcome to Gabriela Lee ("Instructions on How to Disappear") and Tyron Caliente ("The Doppler Effect").

There. That made my day. :)

Monday, September 05, 2005

five freedoms

1. Freedom from thirst, hunger & malnutrition
2. Freedom from discomfort & pain
3. Freedom from injury & diseases
4. Freedom to conform to essential behavior patterns
5. Freedom from fear & distress

And that's for my animals, courtesy of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI). This is part of a new bill that has been signed and all but not yet published because the BAI claims to have no budget allocated (yet). So we had to go there and copy it parts of the document.

Anyway, I'm all for this. Freedon 1 means proper vitamins and vaccination. Freedom 2 guarantees that the animals have enough space and that pet stores do not overstock. Freedom 3 requires a quarantine area of sorts. Freedom 4 is a bit tricky since all pet store environments are immediately artificial, but I guess we can provide them with a semblance of home. Freedom 5 means keeping them safe (but really: imagine that you're an animal in a pet store - wouldn't you be distressed?).

We are also enjoined by the BAI to "separate predator from prey pets". Well, yes.

Also, to "avoid selling 'stuffed animals'”. By this, they do not mean the cutie teddy bears (which I don't carry anyway) but the products of the taxidermists. The poor, posed, stuffed and mounted creatures with glass eyes. Never for me. Ever.

I'm doing my best to take care of the animals in our care. But I can't but think, looking at the 5 Freedoms, just how heart-breaking it all is, considering that so many people in our own country do not enjoy these "freedoms". (That's my social realist thought for the day, thank you).

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Open Call for Submissions - A Time for Dragons: An Anthology of Philippine Draconic Fiction

National Book Awardee Vincent Simbulan loves Dragons. And so he's putting together the first collection of short fiction and poetry about the awesome beast, to be written by Filipinos and slated for publication early next year.

He's sounded an open call for submissions, which I've taken the liberty of reposting here. I'm especially delighted because I love Dragons as well - as much as any of the magical elements of fantasy. And I will submit, of course, and hope for the best.

Spread the word. Dragons are coming in 2006.

In the realms of fantasy, no other mythic creature inspires the same sense of awe and wonder, menace and majesty as the Dragon. Crossing cultural boundaries, the dragon is represented in a myriad of forms, in many tales from across the globe, spanning centuries of art and literature. Perhaps the fascination stems from what the dragon represents- a creature of unbridled power, a primeval force of nature that challenges the mettle of anyone who crosses its path.

In the West the dragon has become an avatar of malice, devourer of maidens, keeper of priceless hoards, a threat to be overcome by knights in shining armor. In contrast, the Oriental dragon is a revered icon, master of storms and rain, and keeper of wisdom.

Given the popularity of dragons, particularly in the genre of "pop-fantasy" (of the Dungeons and Dragons RPG variety), it comes as no surprise that some of the sense of wonder has faded. The dragon has suffered from over-exposure and become diminished, stale.

Despite the flood of mediocrity, there are many excellent stories that deal with dragons, among the most noteworthy off the top of my head are: King Dragon by Michael Swanwick, The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin, The Dragonbone Flute by Lois Tilton, and The Man who Painted the Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard. All are excellent tales, written by pedigreed authors.

And so, encouraged by the response to best bud Dean Alfar's Speculative Fiction anthology (featuring fantasy, science fiction and stories of the interstitial/slipstream mode), I have decided to publish "A Time for Dragons: An Anthology of Philippine Draconic Fiction".

I'm now extending an open call for submissions. My agenda is simple. Show me something new, something fresh, something that presents the dragon in a new light and restores a sense of awe and wonder. I'll accept tales from across genres: classic fantasy, science fiction, horror, slipstream, children's fiction/juvenilia, as well as poetry - whatever strikes your fancy. Show me new dragons that have never been seen before, make it grand or small, just keep in mind that we are dealing with a creature that has fascinated humanity's collective imagination for centuries. Give it the treatment it deserves.


1. Word Count. For fiction, anywhere from 2500 to 6000 words. For poetry, short or long form is acceptable.

2. Language & Setting. English language. Can be set in original imaginary worlds or the "real" world, not necessarily the Philippines (as Dragons are "universal"). Absolutely no fan fic.

3. Number of Entries. Each author may submit up to two (2) submissions.

4. Format. Only via email. Attach as a Word Document - just make sure your submission is virus-free. Please email all submissions to: viniquest(at)yahoo(dot)com

5. Cover Letter. Kindly include a cover letter that includes the title of your submission, the word count, your full name, contact details including contact numbers, as well as a list of your previously published work, if any. New unpublished authors are more than welcome to submit.

6. Compensation. Each author whose work becomes part of the anthology will receive two (2) author's copies of the final publication. Similar to Dean's anthology, the Dragon antho is completely self-funded - except that selected authors may also avail of special discounts at Comic Quest and Petty Pets (right, Dean?) ;)

7. Deadline & Publication Schedule. All submissions must be received before midnight of January 4, 2006. Authors of selected pieces will be informed thereafter. The book will be released by the first quarter of 2006.

Have fun!

Gah! A discount at Petty Pets? Now I have to stock up on Dragons ;)


In the aftermath of the most explosive confrontation between my mother and myself in my early twenties, I packed my bags and left the house forever. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I didn’t have a job and had no savings but I couldn’t stay another night with my sanity and integrity intact. I ran to Dadan, my closest friend then, and asked to stay over for a few days while I got my act together. I would end up staying for a couple of years, in essence adopted by his family.

Tito Johnny and Tita Baby, his parents, opened the doors of their house along West Avenue to me and treated me like one of their own. They fed me, gave me a room, and gave me the time and space to determine the future trajectories of my life. During the time I lived there, I wrote up a small tempest of plays and fiction, and, in a particularly surreal twist, left to marry Dadan’s ex-girlfriend with Dadan standing as one of my best men (see, life is strange and wonderful). Before the marriage, Nikki would visit the house and cause the neighbors to wag their tongues; it felt rather cosmopolitan and libertine – especially when we made noise during lazy afternoons.

I remember Tito Johnny best because of the beautiful madness of his ideas and his warm sense of humor. In my life that was populated by surrogate father figures that I unconsciously sought out to fill the void of my own father’s leave-taking when I very young, he was one of the earthiest, always accessible, perpetually ready to sit and have a conversation, preferably a long one. We talked about floating steel cities anchored to the ground, of the lost Yamashita gold, and of the sinister conspiracies of silence that bound disparate government heads and the church together.

After I got married and had my own place, I rarely saw Tito Johnny. I tell myself that I was busy, that I was in and out of the country, that there was no common time, but the truth is that I acted just like any son who suddenly had freedom to be somewhere else, doing something else, determinedly possessed by the imperative of youth to go away. In the ten years that passed, I got to see him no more than four times.

Last week, I was standing along the road waiting for a cab. I had just finished a meeting and was on my way to another when a car passed by, stopped and slowly backed up to where I stood. I watched the window roll down and heard my name called.

DADAN: Dean!

ME: Dadan? Hey, Dadan!

DADAN: Bro! Where are you going? Get in!

(Dean gets inside the car)

ME: My God! How have you been? Where are you off to? How are things?

DADAN: Shit, bro. This is the strangest thing.

ME: What?

DADAN: The strangest thing.

ME: Why? What do you mean?

DADAN: See those clothes at the back?

(Dean looks at the suit supported by a hanger, the small pile of shirts and the shoe boxes)

ME: Yes?

DADAN: They’re for Papa. He just died this morning, bro. I’m on my way to the funeral home. Can you, can you come?

At that moment, I experienced a sudden and profound dislocation, as if my sense of self was shunted outside the terrible little scene. I could not deal with the information. I could not accept that Tito Johnny was dead. It was absurd. It was wrong. It could not be true.

Last night, Nikki and I attended Tito Johnny’s wake. As I stood in front of the open coffin with tears in my eyes, I apologized softly for acting the prodigal, for my unreasonable absence during his last painful months and for my erratic presence during all the times before. My shame and guilt mingled with a powerful sense of love and gratefulness as I looked at the montage of pictures of Tito Johnny’s life. "Goodbye and thank you" and "I'm sorry" - is that it? Is that all?

Wakes are supposed to be for the benefit of those left behind, but I feared I was going to be of little comfort to Dadan. I felt like I was going in a sad spiral, my capacity for words of comfort rendered almost mute, reduced to the expected script, unable to improvise within the confines of the church anything that could possibly let my friend know much the kindness of his father meant to me. It was not a dialogue beat I could write, a vignette I could construct.

I realized there really are no words that can express what goes on behind loss and longing. Not in that moment.

But I tried as I cried.