Tuesday, May 31, 2005

it's really big

I have to confess to more than my share of anxiety when Nikki and I considered taking Sage to watch her first film at the movie house. At 3 years and 3 months old, would she be taken aback by the darkness? Would she behave herself? Would she manage to sit through an hour and a half without succumbing to ennui or tears? Would I make through with my sanity intact?

We chose Madagascar by the great people of Dreamworks and decided to spend part of our family day watching the film. Prior to the trip, we explained the concept of the theater to the little girl, how gigantic the screen was, how it would be dark but that we’d all be together, and how little girls who become big girls watch movies all the time.

“Bigger than our TV?” Sage asked suspiciously.

“Much, much bigger,” I replied.

“Really?” she said, raising an eyebrow.

“Really,” I promised.

At the ticket counter I realized that I had to pay for three people now, because of course she had to have her own seat. I don’t know why that fact surprised me, considering we take her out to restos and paid for her own plane seat anyway.

Within moments of entering the theater, Sage, enveloped in darkness, sees the big screen.

“Dad!” she said in a stage whisper. “It’s so big! It’s really big!”

We found our seats and I pointed out Sage’s seat to her. She gamely climbed up and was promptly swallowed by the chair, which scoffed at her weight and flipped into the unoccupied position. I extended my left leg over and kept it down for her though later she would demand to sit with her mother.

She loved the movie and bought into the whole experience, peppering me and her mother with questions that would normally drive me insane if I were watching a movie alone. She laughed at the slapstick parts and applauded at the ones where applause seemed apropos, not minding the darkness one bit.

At one point, she stood up and shushed the kids beside her.

“Those kids are so loud, Mom!” she shouted above the movie dialogue. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud since I am notorious for picking fights with just about any loudmouth in a theater.

That’s my daughter – and now I know we can take her to just about anywhere.

Monday, May 30, 2005

vignette: rosang taba

It began one afternoon, during a special merienda held at the residence of Alejandro Baltran Alessio du Verrada ei Ramirez, Guvernador-Henerale of Hinirang. The occasion being celebrated was the defeat of a small force of insurgent natives north of Ciudad, and the hero of the hour was the young commander of the Ispaniola force, Ser Jaime Alonzo Pietrado ei Villareal. The two men sipped chocolate from Mejico and discussed things only men-of-action particularly cared about, and were later joined by the Guvernador-Henerale’s mistress, Andreia Carmen Jimenez ei Rojillo, freshly returned from confession from the Katedral Grandu.

They were seated at the spacious courtyard of the Guvernador-Henerale’s residence, a pleasant arbor of shady trees, flowerbeds and smooth-stoned paths, where the breeze was the most aromatic and the heat less oppressive than elsewhere.

“Ultimately, I must concede to the fact that the lovely Seóra has pointed out to me,” Ser Pietrado said, looking at Andreia directly in the eye. “These Katao du Hirinang, these indios, are not much of a threat at all. Certainly not for the flower of Ispaniola. These brown-skinned natives are lazy, boorish and unorganized. They have no courage, no morals, no civilization. If not for us, they would burn as pagans.”

“Ser Pietrado, you have misunderstood my words,” Andreia met his gaze evenly. “If the Katao were given equal opportunity, then I suspect your words would be emptier than they are now. Any one of them is your equal.”

“I can defeat any one of them in anything. At any time, anywhere,” Ser Pietrado boasted. “They are like animals.”

“Ser Peitrado!” the Guvernador-Henerale admonished him. “Those are words not in keeping with the character of a gentleman.”

Before the young man could reply, another voice interrupted their conversation.

“I could beat you in a race.”

The three turned to see who had spoken. A very fat serving woman, carrying a tray of cold refreshment for them, was biting her lips in despair.

“Forgive me, my lords, my lady,” she spoke in halting Ispaniola, “I did not mean to speak my thoughts out loud.”

“No, no,” said Andreia, gliding to the woman’s side. “But did you mean what you said?”

Opo, Seóra,” the woman replied, “I want to show the gentleman that we are not all stupid. And we are certainly not animals.”

Ser Pietrado turned to the Guvernador-Henerale. “Ser, if this is the kind of servant you keep, I-“

The Guvernador-Henerale, impressed by the fact that the woman had courage to speak, silenced him with a gesture. He turned to the servant and asked her, “What is your name?”

“I am Rosang Taba, my lord.”

Ser Pietrado’s aristocratic lips lifted in a sneer. “Rosa Gordura. Rosa the Fat. How appropriate.”

“And what do you do for me?” the Guvernador-Henerale asked her.

“I am one of the house servants, my lord. I thought my lords and the lady would like some more chocolate,” Rosang Taba said, glancing at the cups and saucers on her tray.

“And do you think you can actually defeat this gentleman, Ser Pietrado, in a… what did you say?”

“In a race, my lord.”

“A race?”

Opo, Ser.”

“And you are certain of this?”

Opo, Ser.”

“Then you shall have your chance.”

Ser Pietrado raised his eyebrows. “Your Excellency, certainly you jest! This, this obese woman is no match for me in anything, especially in a race!”

Andreia fixed him with a glance. “You can beat her, yes?”

“Of course I can!” Ser Pietrado nearly shouted. Andreia simply smiled.

Rosang Taba cleared her throat timidly. “I just ask two things, my lord. As the noble gentleman has said, I am hardly fit. May I ask him for a head start of fifteen paces?”

“Take fifty paces!” Ser Peitrado laughed at the absurdity of it all. “What is your other request, that I race blindfolded?”

Hindi po, Ser. But that you allow me to choose where we shall race.”

“Then do so. We shall race tomorrow afternoon. Let me know where,” Ser Pietrado said.

“Jandro,” Andreia said to the Guvernador-Henerale, “How about a small wager?”

“Ah, certainly,” the Guvernador-Henerale smiled at the woman he loved.

“I cannot possibly fail the Seóra’s expectations,” Ser Pietrado told Andreia.

“Who said I’m wagering on you?”

After Ser Pietrado left in a huff, the Guvernador-Henerale wagged a finger at Andreia and moved to comfort his favorite commander. And the most beautiful woman in Ciudad, without looking directly at the fat serving woman, whispered words in the language of the Katao that only Rosang Taba could hear.

Manalo ka.”


little things

One of the things I do for clients in my primary business is the conceptualization, execution and implementation of sales promotions for their products. by law, all of these promos need to be approved by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and that is usually the most time-consuming and frustrating step.

Time-consuming because the sheer number of ad agencies wanting materials approved overwhelms the understaffed DTI office. If you decide to just go there, you will never get served, as the line is absurdly long. Whenever I need to go to the DTI for approval, I make sure - like today - that I'm there by 6:30AM. That's the only way to get one of the first few priority numbers. When the office opens at 8AM, I'm first in line. Today I spent my waiting time playing Bejewelled on my Xda II, trying not to fall asleep. Then I got hungry and grabbed some sausages, eggs, coffee and orange juice at one of the nearby restos, eating quickly while keeping a bleary eye on the time.

It's frustrating because you will never get things approved in one visit. The DTI will insist on some corrections to your copy, promo mechanics, duration, artwork or some other detail that will entail you having to redo all your documents and come back the next day, and perhaps even the day after that. To a certain degree, we agency folk know what they want, but no one has precise knowledge of the little things.

The DTI is important, of course. If they do not do their job by making sure early on that these promos are fair to the consumer, then they will be deluged by complaints from the same consumers down the line. And the people at the DTI are actually very kind and helpful - just not very efficient in terms of time. I just wish there was a better system to getting this part of the process down. It's my least favorite part.

Except when they challenge me by saying something like "This is not a promo. There is no benefit to the consumer." That kind of thing wakes me up, gets my blood pumping, and my brain kicks into gear. I flash a smile and proceed to defend my poor beleaguered promo. One of the best things about owning your own business is being able to make command decisions then and there, so I can be flexible if I need to be.

But still, I'd really rather not wake up at the crack of dawn just to line up. But in my business, little things like that are part of the package so I'll just have to stumble through the rest of the day.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

posts of note

Between a semi-hectic work schedule and a damn intriguing interview meme I caught from Banzai Cat, most of my browsing time has to do with me asking people five questions and getting replies. Check out the comments section of that post.

I love conversations but after coming up with over 100 unique questions, I'm quite tapped out, so this meme ends here (sorry, everyone, but my brains are mush), with the questions for Rickey, Svelte and PT being the last ones. If you want me to engage me in funky talk, book me for dinner ;)

So here are some highlights of my stint as interviewer (follow the links back to read the full interviews, all of them quite entertaining and revealing):


Q: An angel appears in your bathroom, bathed in golden light. "blessed are you," the angel says. "You have been chosen to bear a special child." Your response?


and then, "holy crap. Sorry."

and then, "Will it hurt when I give birth?"


Q: What are the most important or influential words anyone said to you?

"Kaya mo ‘yan! Ikaw pa!" from Papsie.


Q: What meal (or circumstances around that meal) affected your outlook in life profoundly?

When I was about 12 or so our family business did very badly and we were really broke. Normal food for us would be 10 pesos worth of fishballs with extra sauce or 1 order of Karekare from the carinderia diluted with a lot of water and patis (this for a family of 6). I remember it was my younger sisters birthday and my parents decided to have us all eat out at Burger Machine, and we were allowed to get 2 sandwiches each if we wanted, and a slice of sans rival. I am sure it was because we had not eaten this in a long time....


Q: Could humanity live without the concept of romance? Explain.

No. And darn it, I can't explain why. Of course, I could always give some cheese about romance being the drug that enhances sensations; or that it provides the passion in a relationship; or even that it satisfies the human hunger for excitement, but, they would sound nothing but cheese for me. Not that they are wrong, in my opinion, just... incomplete.


Q: If the lifespan of a person was secretly measured in words both spoken and written down, and therefore when someone reaches the end of her quota, it's the end - would you write or speak less? What would you write or when would you speak?

I don't think that I'd write less given the paradox that, for me, writing is life. And so I do think that, quota included, I will keep on writing until I die. However, I would probably be more careful with my words -- less anger and sadness, and more about hope and contentment. There are so many words that are never appreciated by the world that maybe, if life was inevitably tied to words, then we'd be more appreciative of language and meaning.


Q: What book would best personify your most recent love affair? Would you rewrite the ending? Perhaps edit choice passages?

I really need to start stepping things up, because the most recent love affair was over a year ago. As for the book that best personifies it: The Clash of Civilizations, by Samuel Huntington, which theorizes that the major source of conflict between nations will no longer be economic or political, it will be civilizational. Substitute my name and his for the generic terms "East" and "West", and you've got the story of the last love affair.


Q: Choose one: An interesting life replete with ups and downs, complications, feast-or-famine and a shot at absolute happiness even if it comes very, very, very late in life; OR stable life, regular contentment, predictable rhythms - you're not insanely happy but you're not wallowing in despair either. Explain.

I’d choose the former. I’m actually living that life now. I’m far from being complacent. I’m stubborn that way. But the people I love and those who believe in me make it worth it. I can’t label anything as absolute happiness. Bliss presents itself in many shapes, tastes and textures and I’m just glad when that happens. When I’m older and wiser, maybe I’d be happy with the latter choice. For now, I’m improvising as best as I can.


Q:You wake up one morning with a nose on your forehead--in addition to the one you already have. What are your first three thoughts?

ONE: Is it aligned to my first nose? Does it look natural? Is it the right shade of brown?
TWO: Zaphod Beeblebrox grew an additional arm and he got the Heart of Gold. I'm destined for universal greatness, likewise.
THREE: I'd better double my stock of tissue paper in case I get colds.


Q: If you make love to your clone, is that incest, homosexuality or masturbation? All of the above?

Most of the time I would think its just masturbation. You are having sex with an exact replica nothing new to explore or see. Plain physical stimulation. If the clone is of the same sex. But if it is of the opposite sex. Well technically its inbreeding and so I guess incest and I would not want to be the one to be the cause of a Dunwich Horror.


Q: Fluency in foreign languages is always good, right? I’m offering you fluency (spoken and written) in any 15 foreign languages of your choice, but you lose forever any and all Philippine languages and dialects you know - and you can never ever relearn them or understand them. Game?

Siyempre, hindi. I cannot imagine myself i) talking sweet to my honey in German and be taken for a babbling madman and ii) not understanding my lola when she says to me “Palangga, mingaw na ko sa imo” (Dear, I miss you).


Q: You and hairy Johnny, in all your lycra'ed glory, pumped, in a cage match. Who wins? What's the winning combo?

Me of course. And my tweezer is my ultimate weapon. I just hope he doesn't have a screwdriver.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

a word with kai

Marco Dimaano's assassin gets interviewed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Nikki, myself and a whole bunch of people helped chronicle her most recent heart-stopping adventures.

Pick up a copy over at Comic Quest.

Friday, May 27, 2005

the circle of her embrace

Sage was sitting on the floor watching TV and leafing through a picture book while Nikki and I sat on our bed, looking through the fresh stash of reading material I dutifully brought home.

For a moment, I was transfixed by the sheer domesticity of my situation: a day’s work; a delicious dinner of pork stir-fried in sesame seed oil, rich menudo and hot rice; and conversation followed by companionable silence with the two women I loved. That moment characterized what was mundane and magical, surreal and everyday about my life. It was a moment that seemed no more special than any other moment, certainly less exciting, less dramatic but not any less meaningful.

I looked to see what Sage was watching. It was a Disney film about a father and his daughter, wrapped in one of the most sacred trapping of Americana, baseball.

“What’s that about?” I asked my three year-old.

“It’s about a little girl and her dad,” Sage replied, resuming her multitasking.

“Oh, look,” I said, putting down my book. “She’s embracing her dad. That’s sweet.”

Sage stood up, climbed up the bed and sat next to me.

“Dad,” she said with a tiny frown. “I embrace you all the time.”

And I was lost in the space between my daughter’s small arms, brought to tears by my daughter's assertion of truth which had all the power and glamour of everyday magic behind it.

vignette: slish-slash

The union of my mother and father was determined by Heaven long before they met each other. The marriage was arranged by a professional matchmaker, consulted by both sets of parents who wanted to increase the trickle of blessings that fell sparingly upon both their houses. My parents’ birth signs combined foretold much wealth and harmony and both families rejoiced.

But sometimes Heaven is wrong, or more properly, what is written in the sky can be misinterpreted by matchmakers who did not want to stand in the way of so much hope. The year my father planted me in my mother’s womb was the same year he began to spend more and more time in the other provinces, trying to add to the family coffers, but spending more at various teahouses whenever he returned. In an area the size of Lújìng Béishú words travel faster than horses, fueled by jealous lips and zealous tongues.

All the Tsino in Cuidad Manila dwell in one place. The Ispancialo call it L’Averia du Tsino, the Tsino Enclave; to us it was Lújìng Béishú, the House That Chose Its Own Path. We were separated from the rest of Ciudad Manila by high stone walls surmounted by stone sentinels; stones that were brought, I am told, from the distant land of our ancestors when our people first came to this land. Within the area encircled by the walls stood hundreds of beautiful houses, temples, gardens and ornamental lakes.

Three gates stood open or closed depending on the season and the time of day, permitting or denying entry into our city-within-a-city: the Gate of Ten Thousand Wishes faced the west, where the Tsino merchant vessels came and went, bringing goods both mundane and mysterious from the other parts of Hinirang’s vast archipelago; the Gate of Tranquil Hope faced the south, leading to the Bridge of Seven Steps – beyond that were the shanty towns where strangers and those who came from the distant provinces lived, beguiled by the promises of the great city; the Gate of Unbound Prosperity opened to the east, where the vast markets of Ciudad Manila upheld the virtue of commerce night and day. Lújìng Béishú has never had a northern gate, because every civilized person knows that only an evil wind blows from that direction.

I remember the day that my mother was summoned from her gardening by a stoic Keeper of the Peace to identify my father’s remains. She stood up, dropped her pruning scissors and left me alone with the dozens of orchids she loved.

She found him in a pool of his own blood, the price exacted by too many unfulfilled promises made to a young serving girl, who had also taken her own life in despair.

“She cut out the pieces of his heart that belonged to her,” my mother told me when she returned. “Slish-slash, just like you do to a pig.”

Thursday, May 26, 2005

vignette: the vessel

When the last of the reserve power was spent, we found ourselves in darkness, blind to the starlight beyond the confines of our vessel. What little warmth we had began to surrender to the impossibly cold temperatures outside. Anya’s hand found mine and our fingers interlocked, a final act of desperation.

“We’ll run out of air soon,” she whispered.

“Yes,” I said, numbed by the inevitability of the situation. I closed my eyes and waited for the cold to take me, to take us, to embrace us fully and finally. I thought about our mission, about how it had begun with hope and succumbed to disaster after disaster: the betrayal of Nichols, the madness of Ilsa, the loss of Hideo, my own dismal failure to lead.

“This is the furthest, you know,” Anya said, squeezing my hand. Already her fingers felt like brittle wood, so easy to snap. “We’ve gone the furthest anyone has ever gone.”

Though she was right, our singular achievement of piercing the nearest boundaries of the Oort Cloud offered little comfort. What use was achievement if human nature, by its own expressed character, was destined to devour itself? What did achievement matter when the two people who were aware of it were doomed to pass into ignominious silence?

“I wish I could see outside,” she said with a small gasp. “If I could see, if I could only see.”

The portion of the vessel where we barricaded ourselves in after Ilsa’s semi-successful attempt to murder us all was bereft of any means to view what was outside. It was here, two feet away from Hideo’s tongueless corpse, that Anya and I waited for the end.

“Do you think she’s still alive,” Anya suddenly asked. “Maybe Ilsa is still-“

“No,” I said, shifting my cramped legs. “I don’t think she-“

Anya’s unexpected movement and shouts took me completely by surprise.

“Ilsa!” Anya cried, her voice startlingly strong. “Ilsa! We want to come out! We want to come out! We want to come out!”

“Anya, please,” I said, reaching for her in the darkness. “Stop. Please, stop.”

books, you gotta love 'em

Thanks to the providence of loving sisters (hey Jo!), I have a couple of new books and I haven't even been to the bookstore or Comic Quest this week.

I'm particularly delighted with what I found waiting for me at my desk this morning, snug in a Barnes & Noble bag (I tried staying home to watch the live feed of the American Idol finals but guilt overwhelmed me - and I just found out who won, feh):

Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (Early Classics of Science Fiction), edited by Andrea L. Bell. I've been wanting this for some time but just couldn't find it. It has Latin American-style SF (and having Angelica Gorodischer's "The Violet's Embryos" in the TOC doesn't hurt).

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link. I've been a fan of Link's for the longest time, with her powerful pieces that I've encountered in the YBFH through the years, particularly "Travels With the Snow Queen" and "The Girl Detective". So having more of her stories in one volume makes me extremely happy.


A quick trip to Comic Quest netted a small trove of goodies. A got a pair of Duck collections (believe me when I say this: some of the best comic book stories ever written and illustrated can be found in Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge Comics), the new Gotham Central trade, and a fistful of pamphlets (I don't know where my resolve to stop buying single issues went, really): The Return of Donna Troy (showing off DC's new logo), Legion of Super-Heroes, The Omac Project, and Rann-Thanagar War.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

in five

It seems I'm doing more of these things, but this one's fun. Banzai Cat asked the questions, and I provided the answers. For extra fun, read the stuff after the Q&A.

(1) You're stuck on an island with a stock of your Petty Pets. Which pets will you start to eat first?

OMG, that is such a horrible question. Well, I’d eat my rabbits, because they are really edible anyway. Hmmm. Actually, I’d set it up so they breed and I’ll have rabbits to eat until I’m rescued – and still have some inventory to sell. And I’d never eat the turtles.

(2) How do you deal with writer's rejection?

I read the critique, try to understand where the story or submission went wrong, take note of it, then determine if I agree – if I do, I implement it for next time, if I don’t, I discard the observation. For a while, I’ll feel bad, but afterwards I’ll pick myself up and write something new. You can’t win all the time, which makes the times you do win even sweeter.

(3) A cybernetic butterfly waggles its wings in the virtual world. What is its effect in the real world?

A young girl, the victim of a vicious hit-and-run accident, wakes up from her coma and proceeds to write the most exquisite poetry the world has ever seen. Yes, Happyland would be delighted.

(4) White wine or red?

Red, which friends and clients gift me with. Last night, fed up with my growing stock of unopened bottles, Nikki created angel hair pasta with red wine. Heaven.

(5) Define yourself using onomatopeia.


Here are The Official Interview Game Rules:

1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying “interview me.”
2. I will respond by asking you five questions - each person’s will be different.
3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

If you don’t have a blog, I will still ask you 5 unique questions and you can post your answers here.

Any takers?


Hey, give me a shout out in the comments below when your answers are up so I can see what you said :)

love at thirteen

I. Running like The Flash

The last time I pretended to be The Flash, running at light speed to defeat my nemesis The Warp, was also my last year in grade school at La Salle Greenhills, where we were all boys (though some of us were of two minds about it). Despite the fact that my friends and I were on the verge of becoming young men, balahibong pusa on select places of our lanky anatomies, we still loved the superheroes whose adventures we followed on a monthly basis via comics. Fantasy and reality were separated by a sharp divide, but my fantasy life started to be invaded by thoughts of sex and girls, derived from stolen readings from saucy passages of the adult novels I found in my mother's library; Irving Wallace's The Fan Club was one of the keys to self-gratification.

I liked The Flash, police scientist Barry Allen, because he could run faster than anyone, faster than Superman, run in circles around his Rogues Gallery, and travel backward or forward in time, away from the still statues of everyday life and into places unknown. More than Mr. Miracle, he was the master of escape, throwing his mind, body and soul elsewhere, elsewhen, like I longed to do.

II. My helpless heart

My mother, determined that I would have a college education at UP Diliman, the State University, or not at all, decided to enroll me at the UP Integrated School, hoping that I would be entitled to go directy from that high school into the univeristy of her dreams.

I took the exam, passed it and was shocked at the my first day in high school. Not at the dilapidated ramshackle buildings or the overgrown quadrangles so different from the polished classrooms and manicured lawns of my previous private school, but at the fact that there were girls everywhere. I had to adjust not only to the new academic environment and teaching style (where so few of the student body spoke English as well as I did) but also to the fact that this strange new species, these girls that had only been part of my comics, books, betamax and fantasies, were there in utter and complete four-color reality.

I swooned and fell in love immediately.

III. My first love

Her name was C. - now she is a teacher somewhere and smiled when she was reminded of my affections by one of my cruel sisters - dark-skinned, erect carriage, long black hair that went past her shoulders and more beautiful than a midnight penumbra. She was thirteen, like me, and represented everything mysterious. My love was pure and helpless, totally divorced from thoughts of my evening releases, and I summoned up enough courage to court her. I didn't know how, what to do or say, so I gave her a couple of books I thought that she, as a girl, would like. Sweet Dreams. I know, I could kill myself right now. She accepted them and let me down as gently as she could, being used to attention from strange boys, and I watched my heart shatter and scatter on the floor between us.

IV. Can a diorama show love?

When I saw R., my heart picked up its scattered pieces and sang again, lost in the haze of a sudden love that brooked no questions. I tapped into the nascent creative in me and built a diorama. I know. Again, I could kill myself. It was huge and depicted a beach at sunset, sand and coral and even water cleverly held in a concealed cup, various elements that professed my love for her - thought exactly what the metaphor was is lost to me now. But then it made sense. I carried the heavy thing carefully as if it were my heart and laid it at her feet. She laughed, of course, noting how absurd it was for me to expect her to carry the thing around school. I had not thought of that and almost broke into tears, but the man within me, the male that refused to show weakness, converted the water in my eyes to a sardonic twinkle, and I told her what she did with it was her problem. Which, in retrospect, justified her rejection of my pathetic - but creative - display of adoration.

V. A rice cake is not fake

With the next girl, H., I changed tactics. If the things I loved (books) or the hand-made heartfelt thing (diorama) did not work, then perhaps food. When one of our helpers came from the province laden with native food, sweets and tasties, I took several of them - puto, bibingka, suman latik, palitao - and put them in a bilao, which I then prepared to present casually to the girl I now feverishly adored. I looked like a vendor of native delicacies and endured the clever and cruel jibes of schoolmates as I searched for her, refusing proffered pesos, telling whoever wanted any that it was not for sale. By the time I found her, my resolved had drained completely and I turned around and gave the food away.

VI. An epiphany at freshman's end

My entire freshman year was spent in that manner. Falling in love - though later I would realize that it was not love and that one did not fall; attempting to court the object of my affection via a gift or offering - eschewing conversation that would later become part of my winning technique; crashing into the dumpster of spurned affection but with growing style and grace - I never seemed desperate, or at least I hope I didn't seem so tragic.

At thirteen, it was all so mysterious and impossible. These girls walked around and commanded my attention and I could not have them. I thought perhaps I read the wrong books, kept the wrong friends, was doomed to a lonely existence along with my understanding hands.

My epiphany came towards the end of the school year. I realized I was running, like The Flash, the hero of my youth. In running too fast, I was doing things too fast, expecting immediate results, the cause-and-effect principle of comic book logic. I had forgotten that The Flash's romance was not conducted at superspeed, but in his regular identity as Barry Allen. Barry was the man Iris West loved, not the superhero. I didn't have to run so fast.

The matter of identity had to be determined. I was not The Flash, nor was I Barry Allen. But I was most certainly Dean Alfar, and it was a matter of discovering just who that was, what I could do as a regular joe.

And if the girls, those impossible creatures, could fall in love as well.

VII. Fast forward

They did.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Rabid Transit: Menagerie, edited by Christopher Barzak, Alan Deniro and Kristin Livdahl, Velocity Press, 2005. Eclectic fiction by Vandana Singh, Rudi Dornemann, Matthew Cheney, Dean Francis Alfar, James Allison and Eric Rickstad.

Available by June in select US venues and bookstores and online.

the curse of the amoeba

(DEAN is writhing in bed, sweating profusedly. Beside him are empty bottles of Gatorade, pitchers of water and crushed tetra packs of juice. AMOEBA is standing next to the bed, heavy and ugly.)

AMOEBA: Get up. Get up.


AMOEBA: Get up!

DEAN (miserably): Nooo...

AMOEBA: Get dressed, you're late, late, late for all your important dates. We have meetings to attend, designs to defend, clients to see - hey, your condo's not free.

DEAN (grimaces): I can't. I won't.

AMOEBA: You can't ignore your cell, all these messages, well, you can but if you do, you won't have a home to come home to.

DEAN: Fine. Fine, but behave yourself, please.

(AMOEBA smiles)

AMOEBA: Of course, of course, we're friends after all. I won't leave you to pick up the ball.

DEAN (getting dressed): I wish you would.

(Set change to CLIENT OFFICE. CLIENT sits across the table from DEAN. AMOEBA stands behind DEAN.)

CLIENT: Dean, Dean, good to see you're okay-

DEAN: Well, let me just say-

CLIENT: We have a lot to discuss-

DEAN: It's my stomach. I mistrust-

CLIENT: Great, great, let's get started, shall we?

AMOEBA: Get up, get up.

DEAN: Oh no, leave me be.

CLIENT: What? What did you say?

DEAN: Um, I was wondering if I may-

AMOEBA: Get up! Get up!


DEAN: Excuse myself for a while?


DEAN: Ah, oh hell, it's this guy (Points to AMOEBA)

AMOEBA: Hi, I'm Dean's Amoeba.


DEAN: We'll be right back.

Monday, May 23, 2005

in a strange land

I like new places. I may not like the trip itself (I go crazy over long stretches of just sitting down and end up mutilating whoever is next to me) but I like being wherever "there" is.

In a different country, especially when I'm there for the long term, I take on the mentality of an adventurer. No one knows me, which means I can be whoever I choose to be - which could be exactly as I am, a little different or a completely new creature.

Armed with a street map, I navigate the subways, MTRs, trains and walkways of the new city, exploring as deeply as I dare in a outward spiral, an eye out for bookstores, museums, restos and odd knickknacks. I practice the odd placement of the foreign language's syllables on my tongue and make a fool of myself as I ask directions. I puzzle out the exotic signs and advisories. I order snails or cubed blood or gelatinous pig cheeks and guzzle unknown brands of soda, flavored water, coffee, tea, juice and strange cocktails. I am a stranger in a strange land and there is so much to discover, so much to taste and smoke and listen to and feel.

After a few weeks or months, when I become familiar with the city, knowledgable with its bus and ferry schedules, able to surmise streetsigns and converse with cabbies, order meals like a local would with the appropriate inflections, when I have an established routine of work days and quiet nights, then I lose the earlier infectious desire to explore.

I buy my groceries and stay home, boot up the computer and play games or write, or watch films subtitled in the languages I can decipher. My vagabond yearnings give way to thoughts of Manila, of home and of the people I love.

I'm me again and yet somehow different, and I am struck by an acute sense of longing, wishing to exchange the routines I developed in a foreign country for the more deeply entrenched daily patterns of my life in the country of my birth.

By then, my tastebuds rebel, and the new quest I embark upon has adobo has its ultimate goal. I treasure Filipino language films, movies I wouldn't bother to watch at home, as if they were gold. I scour the internet for news, equally delighted by the latest political shennanigans and the juicy artista gossip. I download Filipino love songs by Basil Valdez and Nonoy Zuniga and sing them relentlessly. I call family and friends just to hear and speak Tagalog, happy to hear the sound of their voices over the expensive minutes. I look for the Filipino expats I ignored during my initial elation at being in a new place, just to trade stories, experiences or simply to talk and feel I am not alone.

And when this bout of homesickness repeats and repeats itself, growing stronger with each occurrence, I know my heart will give in soon. Eventually, I book a flight home, for a visit if my assignment is not yet done; for good, if I have a choice.

When I'm back home, I marvel at the traffic and pollution as if some part of me actually missed it and smile at the chaos that is my city, my Manila.

I may live in another country, even put down roots there and call my house a home -complete with all the trimmings that create a Filipino oasis - but the wanderer in me always, inevitably, finds a reason to retrace my steps, across train tracks, subway routes, interstate turnpikes, and trackless oceans, back to where I started.

revenge of the amoeba overlords

Turns out that it wasn't really the bad writing of Episode III that turned my stomach, but something I ate earlier, triggering the return of the guerillas in my intestinal track.

And now I'm paying for it, desperately rehydrating myself to replenish what my body expels. In combination with the heat, I'm seriously losing liquids.

This is the problem with amoebiasis. Once you have it, you deal with it from time to time. And it is always unpleasant, irksome and weakening. My brain is so slow and my eyelids heavy, and I'm always at the edge of something unwholesome.

So it's half-day at the office for me, cancelled meeting with clients because I dare not risk an unwanted scenario involving a pained but sheepish request to excuse myself from the meeting immediately, and lots and lots of liquids.

Gah. I just have to laugh at it all or go gaga.

monday's meme

Passed like a cold by Oliver.

Total number of films I own on DVD/video: More than I should, a mix of genuine discs and pirate booty - but much much less than true cineastes like my filmmaker friend Flim or true-blue collector Dave Drilon.

The last film I bought: Several, listed here. In terms of a movie ticket, the ill-fated Episode III, which, clearly, some people liked.

Films that I watch a lot or mean a lot to me: The kinds of films I like put a premium on storytelling, characterization, cinematography, editing. They inspire the creative in me. And I lean towards non-American films, mostly (sorry, no time for links, just look them up at the Internet Movie Database). My current Top 10:

Cinema Paradiso - Haunting and bittersweet, just as I like it. My favorite film of all time.

In the Mood for Love - Wong Karwai worked with mood, color and time to create a masterpiece.

Il Postino - Excellent pacing and character moments, heartbreakingly observed nuances.

Raise the Red Lantern - Textured and rich with the implications of desperation against a closed structure.

Y tu mama tambien - Wonderful coming of age roadtrip, great acting.

Battle Royale - Caught the initial screening in Hong Kong and was blown away by the entire attitude and nature of the film.

Spirited away - The best animated film I've seen, filled with details and magic.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - Again, I watched the original screening in Hong Kong and was engrossed by the storytelling - and the luminous Ziyi Zhang.

Amadeus - Masterfully directed, acted, paced and scored. I'd watch it again in a heartbeat.

The Last Emperor - Bertolucci helms an amazing film. Watch the Director's Cut.

To which 5 people am I passing the baton and why? To anyone who loves film.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

what i follow

These are the personal guidelines I subscribe to as a playwright and fictionist. They’ve helped me grow from someone who dreamed of being a writer to someone who actually writes (but success, of course, is relative and there are many other better writers). These worked for me (and continue to do so), but may not for you, so keep in mind my usual caveat. I talk about these when I'm asked to speak on general principles about writing.

Know your grammar

It’s sad, but something as basic as this has to be said. If you plan to be a writer of a decent sort, you are assumed to have mastered Filipino or English or whatever language you choose to write in. Subject-verb agreement, tenses, objects of prepositions, all the small stuff. Believe me, nothing irritates an intelligent reader more than crude writing.

Some would argue “But it’s my ideas that are important, so who cares about the grammar?” Well, your reader cares. And it is your responsibility as a worker of words to be precise, to utilize the structure of the written language to get your ideas across. It is bad enough that there is already an immediate dissonance between the idea in your mind and the idea’s articulation; do not compound it further by being lazy – this results in a garbled idea, and you do want to communicate your wonderful notion, right? Part of the cost and consequence of taking on a writer’s mantle is a deep respect and devotion to language, its structures and the very words themselves.

Know the rules before you break them

Forget about free verse until you understand the sestina and the villanelle. Put off the play until you can write a scene very well. Hold off the novel until you know the ins and outs of narrative. It is better to understand why such rules or modes exist in the first place before you can intelligently question, undermine, subvert or rewrite them.

Be prolific

Write as often as you can. Your “talent” will only take you so far. You need to practice your craft whenever you can. Enforce discipline by starting a journal or use your blog as a workbook. Jot things down. Expand on the wicked ideas that come when they come.

Do not stop at writing vignettes. Write complete stories or plays. Get the entire text out of your system and down on paper. Not everything you write is of publishable quality, but you learn by trying.

Write, write, and keep writing.

Do not fall in love with your text

If you know it doesn’t work, that it cannot work, then discard it. Or change it. Focus is one thing, but being obsessive is another. Very often, authors fall into this mode – they are mesmerized by a turn of phrase, a character or an ending, and are unable to let go. Let go, even if it took you six months to write that bit of beautiful, but useless, prose. Know when to edit.


But be very selective in what you allow to enter your system. As writers, we are sensitive to the flow of notions and words, so be careful of what you allow to influence you - keep in mind the GIGO principle (garbage in, garbage out). But do read volumes in a variety of modes – fiction and non-fiction; as well as genres, styles and nationalities.

Be your worst critic

Never be satisfied until your inner critic lowers his eyebrow. You know when you’re just getting by with technique and when you’ve nailed it. Develop your critical faculty. Bleed for your words.

However, you need to balance personal cruelty with the fact that, on occasion, you may produce good work.

Don’t believe the hype

Do not rest on your laurels. You are only as good as your last award or your last good poem. I have 7 Carlos Palanca Awards and a sprinkling of published work, but so what? What do these things mean? What do previous awards matter? They are comfort during the times you have nothing, true - they fill up a resume nicely. But on a day-to-day writerly basis, they are worthless in and of themselves. The moment you believe yourself to have “arrived”, you’ve lost.

Awards and accolades are irrelevant to the current piece you’re working on (but they're useful in another way, see below). Stop listening for the ovations. Applause dies down. Let it.

Expand your horizons

You write good fiction? Great, now try poetry. Already a poet? Try an essay. Comic book writer? Write a play. Writing for TV? Go for a short story. Remember that mostly the barrier to entry is the form and format. Learn them, try them. Have no fear.

Be inventive

Yes, it may be the case that every story in the world has been told and told better than you, but you have the opportunity to prove that adage wrong. Tell the story better, on your own terms. And if reinventing something someone else has done rankles your creative soul, then go for broke and attempt something the world has never seen. Just try.

Join competitions, workshops and seminars

There are many good reasons for participating in these. Contests force you to be lean and fit – that is the way to win a struggle against others – and yourself (this is the good side of the awards). Workshops teach you critique and expose you to other ways of approaching your craft. Seminars and lectures give you glimpses into technique. Learn from all these.

Encourage others who are just beginning

Sometime later, even the little that you know may be of value to someone who has just started on the hard road we walk. This is not to say to that you are always right (I am most certainly not), but a critical student will be able to walk away with something useful.

This is a fundamental part of my philosophy as a writer because as a maverick writer in my youth, I had very little in terms of encouragement from the so-called “established writers”.

A kind, but truthful, word goes a long way.

vignette: telling a story

And then there’s the story Marie told me one night over our weekend beer and nachos.

“There’s this guy,” she began, leaning towards my good ear, “This guy. Around our age, regular guy, a call center guy, you know? Anyway, he’s at his third call center - you know how people move around, right? A better pay is always a great motivator. So this guy is handling customer service for a phone company in the US. He gets a call from a woman, and you know, he goes through the motions, blah blah blah, the usual – they have a script and everything; they have a program on their monitors like a walkthough and everything’s there. I mean, everything. So this woman gets upset because she can’t get the guy to understand her problem. But the guy, our guy, thinks he does. So he asks her questions again, just to make sure, very nicely because his supervisor or whatever they’re called is listening in – they do, for evaluation, I guess. So he keeps asking her questions which I guess sounded either really useless or stupid to the woman, and she freaks out. She just freaks out. She starts calling him names, demands exactly where he is – and I don’t know if they’re allowed to say where they are, I mean, they’re pretending to be in US – they even have the proper accents and all. So she’s really upset and our guy’s trying to calm her down, but he’s getting affected too, I mean, who wouldn’t, you know? Finally he says, he says to her, ‘Fuck you, bitch”, takes off his headset, stands up, leaves the call center, drives home, calls his wife’s cell phone and tells her to come home from school – she was taking her masters in something, and some say, pregnant with their first child. When she arrives, well, when she arrives, he stabs her seventeen times with a kitchen knife. Seventeen times. I mean, fuck, right? Fuck. Then he sits down next to her on the floor and waits for someone to find them. He just sits there, looking at her, looking at what he’s done, I guess. Just sits there. I don’t know what happened next, supposedly the call center helped keep the thing hush-hush to protect their image, but I don’t know. Obviously, word got out. But it’s not in the papers though. And you’d think that something like that would make the tabloids at the very least. I don’t know.”

As I listened to Marie recount the story in her own inimitable way, I watched her eyes punctuate every detail, every digression, widening, squinting, liquid with the excitement of shared tragedy. Her hands grasped an invisible knife and punctured the air between us, repeating the actions of the call center man, and I felt myself bleed, somehow reeling from the assault as if I were his doomed wife, coming home to the unexpected rape of kitchen steel. By the time Marie was finished, I was exhausted, and there was really nothing more to say or do, apart from picking up my half-empty bottle of beer and taking a drink in silence.

I do not know what possesses us to share stories. I don’t know if it’s to keep us grounded or sane or entertained or human. Perhaps there are some stories that shouldn’t be told, shouldn’t be shared, each vivid detail kept forever mute and unexpressed. Prior to that evening, I did not know anything about the call center man or his wife. But now I do. Now I do.

And their story, because it is hers as much as much as it is his, has become part of mine. Until I pass it on, as I have just now.

To you.

Saturday, May 21, 2005


Nikki and I just walked out of the latest Star Wars movie, The Revenge of the Sith.

From the get-go, the dialogue was terribly written, the acting wooden and pacing bereft of magic.

We lasted thirty minutes or so, just after the agonizing scene with Padme and Anakin.

I am especially critical of the writing. No amount of eye candy can redeem something so poorly constructed. It's not just sad, it's offensive.

And please, I hope no one throws the "but it's made for kids" card. Children and younger audiences are just as worthy of good writing as adults, perhaps even more so. Other films that target children have been produced with excellent writing.

David Brin, way back during the Episode I debacle wrote:

"One of the problems with so-called light entertainment today is that somehow, amid all the gaudy special effects, people tend to lose track of simple things, like story and meaning."

So true. This one was just a waste of life.

Friday, May 20, 2005

rss enabled

Thanks to the urging of JJ Disini and vonjobi, plus the help of Clair and my lovely wife Nikki, Notes from the Peanut Gallery finally has RSS.

It's there on the right column, below the tagboard.

Huzzah (or, for Clair, w007! w007!)!

I feel all manly and real internet-y now.

posts of note

From around the blogosphere, posts that made me smile, think, pause or consider:

Warm Stone's Bing wrote about the less than admirable habits and behavior of some famous bloggers. I think that a blogger crosses the line when he/she begins to believe their own hype and loses that crucial humility. On the democratic world of the web, we are all equal, and celebrity bloggers shouldn't be treated, as well, celebrities, as if their opinions were gold. It's okay to have a strong opinion, but to bruise people with it is another matter (at least online, haha). We need to respect each other's personhood, even if we are not all professionals, millionaires or such. Another pet peeve: linking only to influential/popular blogs, as if to give yourself the semblance of "Popular Blogger and me? We're super-close!" Gah, I feel a tirade beginning so I'll stop right here.

Zarah, the Coffee Goddess, does two interesting things: she explains what a reading stance is, and explains why she found Neil Gaiman's American Gods less than readable. I agree, loathing the book myself (just because you like an author doesn't mean that you will like every word that flows out of his pen - be critical, even with your favorites).

I'm enjoying looking around Tito Rolly's Blog. His most recent post about education begins with a list of the top universities in the Philippines, and made me reflect about the ugliness of my own "university snobbery", coming from UP Diliman (thank goodness I "enlightened up" a few years back, to borrow a phrase from Buddha). Another of his earlier posts resonates with my own stand on letting people be what makes them happy and productive - read it here. Tito Rolly sounds like my kind of teacher, and one day we'll have a smoke together.

Rei had me simultaneously laughing and aching with sympathy as she recounts her current bout with a third eye.

Leigh writes olfactory descriptions like I never could. It's amazing. And her writing tone for everything else is enjoyable as well. Her blog is called "My Life as a Verb", which means that Vin's blog, "My Life as a Bed", is no longer lonely.

Sean raises good points about writing fan fiction, but it's still not for me. Sorry to those who like reading and writing them, but apart from the writing exercise rationale, I feel it is a waste of time. Really. Far better to write and create something new, that is yours, than to play around with someone else's toys (unless, again, you're doing it as an exercise, but even then, there are many other ways toe exercise your writerly muscles). Now if, say, the Star Wars people or someone like that commissioned a novel set in their universe, and gave an advance in dollars, that's a different matter - I'd do it for the money ;)

And finally,Jonas over at The Blurb gets special props for quoting Melanie Marquez. More, more.

franchise temptations

I'm in a business mood again, having just returned to my office from Mini-stop.

There were tons of people along Emerald Avenue (now known as Francisco Ortigas Jr Street - as if we'd change our business cards), despite the heat, going in and out of the various restos.

I've made inquiries into getting a franchise of Mini-stop previously. I don't recall what made me balk (haha, maybe it was the cost), but I do know that my business partner is averse to outfits of this nature. What I do like about it is that there are always people buying stuff from Mini-stop, depending on the location.

Next door is Figaro, a coffee/resto. We've also made inquiries for a full scale resto but the cost is truly prohibitive, way above my small capacity as an investor. As for a cart set-up, well, the location becomes a problem and Figaro wants to own all the cart franchises.

I was actually set to plunk money down for King of Balls, that sago at gulaman franchise that I actually buy drinks from. The cost is small, but then I thought "why do I have to pay this guy when the concept is so obvious?".

It's too easy (assuming you have the money) to just get a franchise and hire people to run it for you. What's more appealing to me is to create a new business, working out the concept and process and logistics and marketing and everything. It's more challenging and rewarding that way (although if I could get a franchise of Jollibee for a fraction of its cost, I would jump at it).

Franchising. Such an odd thing for me to consider. A few years ago, it was not even part of my vocabulary, but now I field calls from people who want a franchise of my store, Petty Pets. The answer: We're not ready to offer franchises. There are still things I'd like to tweak.

So now I'm considering expanding the pet store in terms of locations, maybe towards the 4th quarter of this year.

Or put up a third business altogether, maybe for books or comics. We'll see.

reads and views

Among my interests are reading and viewing films, so I make it a point to add a few titles to the bookshelf and make the occassional foray into the pirate quarter for DVDs, budget-permitting. Caveat: Yes, I have a conflicted stance on video piracy - what with Intellectual Property Rights and me being a creative and all that - but do not take it up with me for both our sakes - if you must vent, do so at your own space and on your own time, okay?

Comic books trade paperback collections dominated my reading supply purchases this week, due to an unanticipated flood of good stuff at Comic Quest and slim pickings at Powerbooks, while a visit to Billy the Pirate netted a decent number of movies to watch (followed by minutes of agonizing choices - too many selections - courtesy of Mr.Smith, my new porn supplier - yes, I like porn.)

Books – Juvenalia and Burgers

Firebirds: An Anthology of Original Fantasy and Science Fiction edited by Sharyn November (Firebird, 2003). Every fantasy reader has that one special story that sparked their love of the genre. This anthology, written for a younger audience, may just have one for new readers.

Swan Sister: Fairy Tales Retold edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2003). Focusing on the fairy tales motif, the editors present a wonderful array of writers including Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jane Yolen and Neil Gaiman, all writing for a younger audience. Seeing anything edited by Datlow and Windling is enough for me. For sixteen years, Datlow and Windling collected and present The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, a veritable bible for speculative writers and lovers of fantastic fiction like me. Imagine my happiness when my story “L’Aquilone du Estrellas (The Kite of Stars)” was selected for the series' 17th edition (the fanboy in me was enraptured when my story appeared just before Stephen King, and a story away each from my heroes Neil Gaiman and Ursula Le Guin).

Unsolved Murders by Russel Gold (Virgin Publishing, 2002). This collection of true crime stories (a steal at P99) has me engrossed even though I am already familiar with almost 90% of it. I bought it for the JonBenét Ramsey murder which I followed via US papers – I was, and still am, appalled at the murder of a 6 year-old girl. Of course, my daughter Sage thinks its “Unsolved Burgers”.

Comics – Can you tell I love them?

Powers Vol.8: Legends by Brian Michael Bendis (Icon via Marvel Comics). Bendis is the master of the comic book dialogue and charactertization but is shaky with everything else, especially plotting. But still, this series, following the trail of two non-powered detectives in a world of superheroes, makes for entertaining reading – and is read best in collected installments.

Teen Titans: Beast Boys & Girls by Geoff Johns and Ben Raab (DC Comics). This collects a storyline from the current series written by Johns (one of the best comic book plotters and idea men) plus the mini-series featuring Beast Boy (due, no doubt, to the unexpected popularity of the character in the animated TV show ‘Teen Titans Go!”).

Ultra: Seven Days by the Luna Brothers (Image Comics). With plaudits from both critics and fans, Ultra is the story of a superheroine who encounters a fortuneteller that predicts true love in seven days. It’s so good, Nikki says she wished she thought about it.

The Walking Dead Vol.3: Safety Behind Bars by Robert Kirkman (Image Comics). It’s actually hard to write a series about people on the run from zombies, but Kirkman does so with style. He is also the writer of Invincible, one of the best comics around today.

All-Star Comics Archives Vol. 1 (DC Comics). This hefty hardbound edition collects the first appearance of the Justice Society of America, reprinting stories from 1940-1941. The art is an eyesore but the stories themselves possess a certain charm and innocence sadly lacking in today’s offerings. Powerbooks has more of the Archive series but they are all rather pricey. I was lucky to get this one at 50% off.

Film – A little bit of everything, since I’m so not in the mood for my usual art house fare

Melinda and Melinda by Woody Allen (2004). I love most Woody Allen films for their quirkiness and absolute reluctance to conform to Hollywood formulas. Maybe this will be good.

Confidence by James Foley (2003). Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Andy Garcia – by the cast alone, this promises to be interesting.

Primer by Shane Carruth (2004). "If you always want what you can't have, what do you want when you can have anything?" I usually pick up festival winners and this one won the 2004 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. However, if it’s artsy within the first three minutes, it’s off to the “view when intelligent” pile with it.

Baptists at our Barbeque by Christian Vuissa (2004). Winner (Best Picture) in a number of festivals, the same reasoning on Primer applies to this comedy.

Be Cool by F. Gary Gray (2005). We’ll see if intense loathing for Uma Thurman is softened by the performances of John Travolta and Harvey Keitel (it worked for the two Kill Bills, except for the scene she talked to her toes which was just agonizing). Anyway, this is my mindless pick for the week.

Unleashed by Louis Leterrier (2005). Because Jet Li kicks ass. Though I realize I’m probably going to hate this. But hey, I loved Hero.

Hitch by Andy Tennant (2005). Because Nikki has a crush on Will Smith. Sigh.

Big Sister Dora (2005). Because Sage is a big fan of this Spanish-speaking girl and I find her quite educational.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

where's the beef?

Sage walked up to me while I was reading one of the books I got this week, "Unsolved Murders" (yes, I'm sucker for true crime as well).

"What are you reading, Dad?" she asked, climbing over me to peer at the book.

"'Unsolved Murders'," I replied, struggling to read while blocked by a three year-old's arms and legs and hair.

Nikki walked in to tell us that dinner was ready.

"Mommy, Mommy!" Sage told her. "Look, Daddy's reading 'Unsolved Burgers'!"

Nikki and I couldn't help ourselves and burst into laughter, telling Sage that I was, in fact, not reading up on the demise of fast food products under dubious circumstances.

But of course, somewhere in my head, a scene unfolded:

(The tenor of the dinner party was abruptly altered when Jeeves, the butler, walked in, his eyes widened by horror.

"Forgive me, sirs," he gasped. "There's been a burger! Burger!")

antho # 3

Just a quick note because I can barely contain my writerly (there's that word again) joy.

I've been invited to be part of an new fiction anthology being put together by a multiple Palanca Award-winning author I admire a lot. If my stories make it, this will be the third antho I'll be published in this year (after Rabid Transit: Menagerie and Latitude: Writing from the Philippines and Scotland).

More when it's perfectly fine to blabber about it.

Update: Angelo relieved me of my misery by pointing out that "writerly", one of my favorite words, is in fact a word, as proven by two sources - Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com. (I feel particularly betrayed by M-W.com - gah.)

Pronunciation: 'rI-t&r-lE
Function: adjective
: of, relating to, or typical of a writer

adj. Of, relating to, characteristic of, or befitting a writer: "set a standard of writerly craft for that...well-wrought magazine"

So thank you, thank you, Angelo. I can rest easy now.

Oh, and to add insult to injury, I forgot that I could just double click on any word in my blog posts and a definition will pop up. Try it. ;)

petty matters

Part of running a business is R&D and for the pet store, I’m looking at funky fish. Some innovative minds there have use recombinant gene techniques to create fluorescent fish. Roughly speaking, they introduced a gene that has a bioluminescent trait to some fish and selectively bred those that exhibited the trait. It’s really nothing new but it’s still quite a wonder to see these glowing fish swimming around in their black-lit aquarium. I’m doing final checks on prices and importation regulations. It’s not as easy as importing the Sea Monkeys (remember those funky ads at the back cover of comic books?).

I’m also on the lookout for an entomologist, an insect scientist who can advise us on how to breed certain cool insects. These little things fascinated me as a child and I’m sure other kids would appreciate a change from their video games. While we’re at it, I’d consider spiders too (not an insect but an arachnid as any reader of Spider-Man would know). I’m not sure if it’s legal (if it isn’t, forget it) but it does bring back memories of spider fights during my childhood (complete with esoteric techniques like how to put a spider to sleep: cup it in the palm of your hands and blow gently). While thoughts of spider tournaments play in my head, I need to wrestle with my ethics and come to a definitive stand on whether or not this is just cruel, similar to how I feel about cockfights.*

I am going to be selling ant farms. These are really neat and each farm can interlock with other farms. You need to put in a queen for the colony to prosper, but when they do, you can watch them for hours. The one I'm dying to get is called The Antquarium, an ant habitat created for zero gravity that was developed for a NASA space shuttle mission in 2000 to study animal behavior in space

Snakes are out of the question, especially the pythons. Apart from the fact that they’re huge (not at all petty), they give me the willies. I heard rumors that once a week, a guy comes down from some mysterious place with geckos and stuff. We’ll see. Again I need to check with the Bureau of Animal Industry as well as the Parks and Wildlife Bureau if it’s okay to sell them (word has it that if I can prove I can breed them, then I can market them).

Meanwhile, I actually found a source for adorable gerbils, putting to rest my initial reservations about this animal (I thought it resembled an evil no-hair-on-my-tail rat). This breeder has lively brown ones, as well as robust-looking cavies and Roborovski hamsters. And all my usual animals are doing okay, surviving the heat as best they can. I'm happy to say that we've experienced no further turtle mortalities.

*I declined an offer from a supplier who thought I’d be interested in a hamster ball. You seal the hamster in and watch it try to escape hopelessly, rolling the ball frantically every which way until it tires out - no thanks. That’s just wrong.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


It's only the middle of the week and I'm already drained. I think it's all the heat (despite the fact that the "Poh! Poh! Poh! Poh!" actually managed to summon up a brief rain).

I'm as energetic as a slug, and there's still a lot of stuff to do and get done. My mind is dull and my verbal ability reduced to grunts.

What I really want to do is to kick back in some airconditioned hotel room, watch TV and order room service ice cream, guilt-free. But no. Who can afford to do that?

I can have a cigarette in the stairwell though and think about the new story I'm percolating. If I do not perish walking there.

And at least there's Idol tonight. Go, Bo!

character development: duality

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Like my wife says, we are all contradictions in terms. This is something to keep in mind when developing characters for a story, be it for your short speculative fiction, your Great Filipino Novel, your action-adventure screenplay or your epic fantasy animated TV series.

As people, we are capable of the noblest of intentions and the most unspeakable of thoughts. We love and hate, admire and envy, build and tear down, laugh at adversity and weep at the thought of injustice. Sometimes, we appreciate the beauty of simple things; sometimes we can’t be bothered to wake up to watch the sun rise. We are busy and self-centered, humble and giving of our time, selfish and ignorant, free and wise. Within each person is the ability to choose his attitude for any given circumstance, or instead be swept away, unable to cope with the situation.

Every person you see is a walking trove of stories, a living contradiction. Certainly not all of them have experiences akin to a Templar revelation, but there are many smaller stories within their frames, conversations with lovers and enemies, dreams of wealth and betterment, secret passions and activities unseen, techniques for bargaining with vendors and ways to deal with corrupt policemen, multiple travelogues of places visited, foreign words and phrases that mean more than their connotations, vespertine romances and remarkable dalliances, jeremiads of lost loved ones and the usual megillah about ungrateful friends – most seemingly prosaic, but beneath the superficies are narratives of the human condition. There are stories in everyone: your parents, your employer, the man next door, the librarian, the person across from you in the bus, the receptionist who greets you everyday, everyone. And, of course, you.

Fiction mines the lives of people, their flaws and fears, their loves and hopes, their small moments of joy and sorrow. Writers expose dualities, the inherent blemishes that make people interesting. Texts abound with both hero and anti-hero, and the protagonist is not necessarily a perfect person (if she was, she’d be boring to read). What happens in terms of plot is secondary if you focus on character and write character-driven narratives. These are the characters that are memorable to reader because they struggle to understand what’s going on, striving to live within the boundaries of the pages to the best of their abilities. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t, but it is how they react to the struggle that exposes their natures, that makes them living beings that the reader can root for or at least identify with.

So, where do ideas for characters come from? Honestly, ideas for characters are as common as dirt. A writing workshop or an evening out with friends can generate more than you can immediately use. For the role-playing games I run, I’ve developed numerous interesting characters through the years. The best resource? The people around you. So are good characters, like good ideas, rare? I believe in the old adage that says there is nothing new under the sun. Stories, like the ideas within them and the characters that inhabit them, are as old as the first dreams of man. We reinvent them and express them in new ways that are relevant to us as storytellers in this day and age, as well as to our purpose in telling the story.

How can textured characters be developed in a matter of pages or paragraphs? By exploring their duality: giving them flaws to deal with as they seek to achieve their goals. An easy temptation is to caricature or stereotype, placing characterization low on the totem pole of priorities and giving the privileged position to the idea. A quick common method by lazy writer is to resort to the Archetype and leave it at that*. This results in flat, uninteresting characters that speak the same way and react predictably, stultifying the reader with personalities that are the equivalent of a brown paper bag. This is laziness, pure and simple.

Consider duality as you write your characters: think of your characters as real people and think of the people you know as characters, then bring the interesting things you learn to the page.

* Joseph Campbell is much abused in this regard. His observations of Archetypes are not meant to be used like cardboard cutouts**. They are unconscious representations that populated myth and legend. You do not deliberately create something unconscious. It remains an interesting critical method though.

**This is also a sad flaw of most role-playing game systems – the reliance on Archetypes. This has led to poor creative writing from fantasy writers whose exposure to character creation is with the rulebooks of the games they played (from the distant past all the way to the revised White Wolf and d20 games). Better to draw from real life or (gasp) literature.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

vignette: empty

It was quite a depressing evening for Dave, sitting there, listening to each of his friends relate all their current and prospective creative work (“For profit or for the soul”, as Jimmy, the loudest and the most prolific of them, put it). As each person rattled off all their plans and schedules, Dave realized that he was nowhere approaching his expected output as a member of this circle of authors, playwrights, painters and photographers.

“I’m thinking of the male nude for my exhibit, but very harshly lit,” Pierre said, passing a handful of Polaroids around. “No shadows, no textures, no mystique. I think I can pull it off. I’m thinking of getting really old guys, grandfathers, you know, people like that.”

It was not a matter of whether or not Dave had ideas. He did have them, a few quite exciting, perhaps one or two even astounding in their potential. But they remained pure ideas, unexpressed, as he found himself mired down by the mundane circumstances of his life – which normally would be a source for him to mine and craft, set down and polish – unable to pursue thoughts to their multi-path endings, unwilling to commit the time and effort to actually write. He could not go beyond the arc of his arm’s reach; the very thought of motion immediately drained him before he could even begin.

“Of course, all the thirteen stories will interconnect,” Adrianne was explaining, a little too loudly as usual. “It’s all about the intertextuality of sexuality.” She was telling the group about her book deal and the risks she was undertaking, pushing a literary agenda when all the publisher wanted were short romances in Filipino. “Without risk, we cannot create,” she said, pausing for dramatic effect. “It would just be empty fireworks.”

The word made Dave remember how his own thoughts came in staccato bursts, like fireworks that rose and flared, abruptly lighting his consciousness before just as quickly fading into the night sky. The longest piece he had written two weeks ago was a fractured poem of three verses in first person with no imagery, concrete or otherwise. When he was finished he knew he was guilty of setting monologues as prose poems with no hope of truly creating anything; just wanting to write something, anything, to keep up the discipline, to burn away time.

“You know those old ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books,” Joven asked, gesturing to the group. “You know, you make choices and get different endings and shit? Remember how they could have been so cool? Well, I’m writing one on my blog, hyperlinked and all, so there’s an actual experience of moving away once a choice has been, you know, made.” His idea made most of the group laugh and sit up as they contributed memories of the old series.

“That sounds great,” Jimmy said, bestowing a dazzling smile of approval upon Joven. “Finish it and we’ll think about how to protect it from plagiarists. I like the conceit applied to the web, but I don’t trust the fuckers on the internet.”

When it was his turn to speak, Dave just coughed twice and proceeded to be studiously engrossed with his cell phone, letting the painful moment of anticipated response pass by in bullet-time, before Gina, the purple-haired poet next to him, saved him from further embarrassment. As he listened to her announce the publication of yet another of her collections of angry-young-woman-who-made-the-mistake-of-falling-in-love poetry, he thought about how his own ideas and plans just sat in the still corners of his mind, perfectly transfixed, like the plastic displays of various menu items in the Japanese restaurant that Jimmy insisted upon because he could light up and smoke his noxious cigarettes.

“So, in the end, my collection says, in a nutshell, ‘I have nothing to say to you, Dear Reader, live your own life’.” Gina sat back and lit a cigarette, exhausted by her own vitriol.

“I love it,” Adrienne said, raising her glass of Strong Ice. “What about you, Dave? I didn’t hear what you’re up to.”

“Nothing,” Dave muttered. “I have nothing.”

“I’m sure you have something,” Jimmy said with a small frown. “What happened to the story you’re writing, the one about dragons?”

“It’s not finished,” Dave replied.

“You’re just being lazy,” Jimmy said with a wink.

“Sure,” Dave said. He composed a text message and sent it to himself.

Get out get out get out

When the message arrived, triggering the beep of his cell phone seconds later, Dave stood up, excused himself and drove home.

looking at tvcs

When Nikki and I are in TV addict mode (for American Idol, The Amazing Race, Survivor, or any of JJ Abrams' recent shows), we resign ourselves to the inevitable slew of commercials. To get us through the hebetude of the ads, we started to observe just what TVCs (television commercials) were being placed in the time slots we favored - because, when I wear my hat as an ad guy, it is important to see if the target market for all these products or services is actually being reached (or if, in the case of Dean versus the feminine hygiene product ads, there is a form of catachresis).

On free TV, we get bombarded by softdrinks, food, soap and shampoo ads (plus the aforementioned shudder-inducing feminine wash product). On cable, we are proffered cars, liquor, travel destinations, shoes, credit cards, banks and more high-end stuff.

So are these advertisers reaching us via the proper channels? Yes, they are, especially cable TV. The one time they lost me was when, for some reason, they aired a pig food ad.

TV ad placement is serious business, costing more than an arm and a leg for the precious thirty second placement. And of course, advertisers need to place their ads multiple times - if they don't, then their ads will be ineffective (as a stratagem, repetition builds top-of-mind recall, similar to the how religion proselytizes).

Cost of placement depends on several factors including channel, time slot, TV show and number of placements. If you're interested, this should give you a rough idea of cost of the 30s for primetime viewing (15s - fifteen seconder edit downs - are cheaper):

ABS-CBN 2 180 - 200+k
GMA 7 150 – 180+k
ABC 5 80 – 100+k
RPN 9 50+k

The top two networks continue to battle it out, and there are times and shows when GMA 7 is more expensive. (Aside: I'm showing my age here, but there was a time when it was RPN 9 and GMA 7 that were tops - remember when they had Flor de Luna and all the giant robot shows? Channel 2, then called BBC 2 was pathetic, and the government had Channel 4. Heck even Channel 13 had some good shows - and the odd-looking newscaster I always suspected was a tranny).

The trend nowadays is to niche market, and for clients who want TV ads, we offer cable TV. Cable's reach is limited and very specialized (because of cost to have it, among other things), but it is much cheaper for 30s (cost in thousands of pesos for each 30-second placement):

STAR WORLD (American Idol) 25k

So with all this money going into your media plan (where and how often you place your TVCs), you have to understand or make educated assumptions about the audience you want to reach - otherwise, you are spending fruitlessly. The best way (but expensive) to purchase information or conduct your own research with proper methodology - that's the only way you will know that, for example, of the Filipino males and females between the 18-35 years old, AB socio-economic class, who live in Manila, over 90% watch free TV daily; over 50% watch cable TV daily; 10% use a credit card at least once a month; 70% engage in leisure activity daily; close to 50% eat fastfood once a week; and slightly over 30% use the internet several times a week.

If you are advising a client, you need to know enough to tell them not to advertise their pig food during American Idol on Starworld (unless you have a really, really, really magnificent and funky plan).

Next time you watch TV, check out the ads - instead of being bored, you'll see them in a different light and perhaps be entertained a little like us.

Monday, May 16, 2005

building up vocabulary

Words, of course, are the coin of a writer and it makes sense to have as many of them as makes sense to you - then it becomes a matter of craft, style or technique just which ones you use. It should be apparent, however, that the more words you know, the more options you have when you want to set down your thoughts in writing.

Why is this important?

In everyday speech, we use only a small percentage of all the words we know. This subset of our vocabulary is a tiny core of useful words. These serve our purposes well, in terms of commonplace experience.

Writing, however, requires more than just the commonplace, which forms the foundation of what you have to say. I am not saying "Go for the exotic words and impress the louts in the crowd!” I'm saying that knowing synonyms, antonyms, and other means of expression are advantageous: it should be a given, as a writer, that you love words and language. It helps not just in writing, but in public speaking, competitions and, of course, for reading comprehension.

So how do you improve your vocabulary? Caveat time: This worked for me, it may not be your cup of tea - but you'll never know until you try.

1. Read. A lot. Read everything: newspapers, magazines, brochures, flyers, menus, ad copy, website copy, in addition to fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays, plays, children's books, juvenilia, comic books, cookbooks, travelogues, critiques, other people's blogs, everything. Do not stick with only with what you like. If you do, your vocabulary will be slow in growing because all the words in favorite reading material are most likely known to you already. Expose yourself to other forms of writing (the jargon alone in specialist publications will get you going). Keep note of unfamiliar words and check a dictionary when you get home (or go to an online one if you're connected - you can even ask Google to "define:mysteryword" for you).

2. Listen. Your life probably follows a routine like mine does. But it is important for you to break out of it once in a while. Attend a symposium. Watch a play. Go a poetry reading. Sit in or audit a class. Visit an NGO and ask for their literature then ask them hard questions. Hang out with younger people. Hang out with older people. By doing this, you will hear people using different words. Keep note and learn.

3. Play games. Nikki and I, like our close circle of friends, are inveterate game addicts. Board games, card games, RPG, PC, PS1/2, arcade, you name it and we’ll probably play it (except for racing games which I suck at). When we compete against each other, there is no husband or wife tenderness - there is only the question "Who is the best Alfar?" (and sometimes, it's not even us). When it comes to word games, we drop our gloves and go for the jugular: Upwords, Word Factory/boggle, Scrabble, TextTwist -even the crosswords and word finds are fiercely contested. Advantage goes to people who know strange short words like "xu" or "aa". Keep note of what other people play and absorb.

4. Taste a word a day. Subscribe to a word-a-day type program. I'm on the Merriam-Webster Online list and get a word emailed to me daily. The wonderful thing about this site is that you can listen to proper pronunciation. There are many resources online, look for them and use them.

5. Use the words. Inject a new one in something you're writing. Try one in conversation. Use a few during client or school presentations. Get your tongue used to the syllables. Speak them, say them, get used to them. Spell them, dissect them, write them down, familiarize yourself.

Later, when you sit down for a writing session, be it a nice long one or guerilla-style, you'll have more weapons at your disposal to use against the blank page or monitor - then you can decide to be elegant and sparse or as verbose as you wish.

It's always better to have different ways to say what you want to say.

giving in to object lust

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There. I got it. The Luddite in me is sobbing in a corner in complete shock and disbelief, while the rest of me goes gaga over the device in glee. I can't help it. This thing is amazing (plus is worth a gazillion "pogi points" - haha).

Thanks to my good friend Marco, my techno-pimp, I now have an O2 Xda2. It's a pocket computer slash everything, and I mean everything - phone, camera, video recorder, email, word, excel, powerpoint, media player, pocket tv, it's so crazy and I'm in love.

I just need to adjust to non-finger texting and angst over just how I intend to carry it (I have deep issues with a belt holster).

The best part is the rationale for buying this thing: I need it for my business. Yup, that's my line, my justification, my ironclad reason. Because clients need to be impressed. Because I need to beam a powerpoint to a bluetooth projector or somesuch. Because it makes me appear as if my agency can perform whatever tasks the client wants - by virtue of the fact that the boss (me) has a funky thing.

Right. ;)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

small school and a double deck bed

Nikki and I are enrolling Sage into Small School (as opposed to Big School when she gets older) on Monday. I realize that a part of me was unconsciously holding off on taking this step because it underscores the fact that the passage of time is inevitable.*

It moves in uneven spurts, sometimes so deliciously slow, sometimes unbearably fast.
I recall the time we found out we were pregnant while living in Hong Kong; deciding to move back to Manila to be closer to family; watching my wife change shape while maintaining her cool composure during the nine months that followed; jumping into the unfamiliar waters of a new vocabulary: layette, formula, fatherhood; Sage’s deliberate debut, on her own time, damn the doctor’s schedule; sleepless nights, wondering if the little baby has stopped breathing; fearing I would accidentally crush her during the times I slept with her by my side; and then the helpless inertia of weeks and months when everything blurred like time-lapse photography: coming home to see her sit up unsupported; watching her crawl in circles like a novice dervish still uncertain how to whirl; catching her first words like the arrival of long-awaited rain, no longer a stranger to the language of man; then standing and running and jumping and shouting and laughing and asking questions only fathers, with learned conviction, can possibly answer.

And now she’s going to school.

I feel so proud, as if the achievement of beginning education outside our home was mine, and yet I am also gripped by this odd sense of loss which transforms into a peculiar sense of nostalgia. There were so many first times with Sage, and more to come, true – and I know that this is just another step in the long series of goodbyes that she needs to undertake on the road to becoming who she ultimately decides to be. I’m a little sad, feeling a bit foolish, caught in a drama of own devising, but I can’t help it.

There are things your parents say or do that, as a child growing up, you find incomprehensible. It’s only when you have a child yourself that you undergo a series of epiphanies, some unpalatable, some slap-your-forehead-in-amazement-true, that prove them somewhat right all along (and the issue then becomes a matter of implementation, rather than the logic behind the word or deed).

All these feelings are magnified by our purchase of the two-tiered bed Sage wanted. Her insistence on henceforth sleeping on the top level, her determination to negotiate the ladder without assistance, her repeated assurances to us that she will not roll off and fall – she’s growing up, and she’s learning to take care of herself.

I honestly fear the day, years later, when she finally outgrows me, in the sad and quiet way that parents cease to be of primary importance to their children. I just have to adjust, like every other father who has ever thought like this, and maybe take up golf.

Or something.

* Plus, the cost of the Small School is astonishing – in our case, just under P75k a year. That’s more than my entire college matriculation at UP. I feel like we’re sending Sage to pre-med instead of preschool. And we will be doing this for at least eighteen more years (nursery, kindergarten, prep, primary school, secondary school and university). No wonder my mother would be so upset whenever I’d feign illness or just cut entire days of college classes to surreptitiously perform questionable acts with trusting girlfriends (haha).