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Showing posts from 2016

I feel it in my finger

I have low pain tolerance and a wild imagination. Also, a little bit of paranoia.

I cut my left thumb while mincing garlic today. I was alone at home. The wound was deep, and the blood spurted out like runny tomato sauce and quickly turned my entire hand a wet bright red.

I almost sucked my thumb, the way I would have when I was younger, but the blood was just too much, and my vegetarian brain found the thought repulsive (makes no sense, I know!). I applied pressure on the wound, but the blood just kept coming, the thick droplets now coloring the sink.

I ran to my room in panic and fumbled around the dresser for a cotton pad and adhesive bandages with my one good hand. Then I went to the bathroom for the bottle of iodine I knew was there, somewhere.

All the while, my brain was racing with thoughts of survival: pressure on the wound, raise your hand higher than your heart, keep your heart rate normal, oh god I hope I don't need stitches, please clot please clot or what a way to find out I'm diabetic, wasn't superglue invented to close wounds during World War 2, do I need anti-tetanus shots, wash it well, am I going to die, gangrene gangrene gangrene --

Then suddenly, loud and clear, I heard my little sister Kai's voice from when we were cooking together one New Year's Eve years ago and I had also cut a finger and was freaking out a little: "Ano ba! Malayo sa bituka yan!" That's far from the intestines, far from being life-threatening.

Weird -- but it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas now.

The writer who left me his novel

Many years ago, when I was a creative writing major, I became friends with another writer from another school over the telephone. I can no longer remember how it happened, but people passed along phone numbers back then.

We spoke a couple of times, then he asked if we could meet. He wanted me to read his life's work: a fantasy novel. I never could write fantasy, though I read some, and I didn't think I would be able to give valuable feedback, but he was insistent, so I said yes.

I can't remember how and where we met, but it would have been at McDonald's Philcoa. I imagine we told ourselves what we color shirt we would be wearing -- no cellphones back then -- and we sat in one of the booths. We must have not talked much, but long enough for him to hand me a brown envelope filled with his work.

I never got around to reading the entire manuscript (it is handwritten, in different notebooks and pads, in poor penmanship) but I still keep it in a special box on my bookshelf.

I wish I could return it, but he didn't write his full name and contact number on the draft and I've forgotten those as well.

I wonder where he is now, and what he does for a living. I wonder, does he still write?

I don't remember anything else about him. It is such a huge blank that we may as well not have met. Except for one thing: I still have the only copy of his first novel.

"When I couldn't sleep I learned to write"

The Only Poem
By Leonard Cohen

This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
I didn’t kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn’t turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

Thank you, Leonard Cohen

Screenshot from YouTube
Sept. 21, 1934 – Nov. 7, 2016

"And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah."

Like endless rain into a paper cup



I was reading an article on why introverts (INFJs like me, specifically) love the rain when one of the few memories I have of the years I was struggling with learning Filipino and English popped up.

I was in a car with the family of my father's colleague. I was probably five or six at the time. I'm not sure why, but I was going home to Manila with them by myself. I don't remember where the rest of my family were. Maybe we were in convoy, but they had put me in the car with another little girl.

She was my age, pretty, extroverted and English-speaking. Maybe we had appeared to be friendly with each other so our parents thought that we would have a fun time during the road trip from Zambales to Manila.

The problem was, I didn't even speak Filipino and English was a whole other universe. I understood both languages a little, yes, but I couldn't speak at all. I was five years old when we moved to Manila; Cebuano is my mother tongue.

The girl was very friendly and she tried to talk to me. I never said a word from Zambales to Manila. I wanted to say something back, to be nice, but I was endlessly testing my lovely replies inside my terrified mind.

The girl's mom turned around and said to her daughter, "Talk to Althea. Be friendly."

The daughter replied in a whiny voice, "I've been trying, but she's not talking."

From Zambales to Manila, I sat in the strange car, looking out the window. I remember that it rained most of the trip, but not too hard. For most of the trip, too, I had to pee, but I didn't have the words to tell them to make a pit stop.

I survived by staring at the raindrops on the window, watching them drip down the glass and form occasional magical shapes. Once, there was a unicorn. Then a star. A heart. A rainbow. A flower. Everything I wanted to see. And each time, I wanted to turn to her and say, "Look at this wonderful thing!" But I never could, so I never did. I decided to save everything for later.

I think that was how I started to become a writer.

39: On the road

I was on the road when today arrived, a little sleepy and a lot happy. I was coming home from a Halloween party with my niece Kiara, who had spent the afternoon at her mother's office, pretending she was a bumblebee in exchange for candy.

My brother-in-law was driving, and I found myself talking to him about what I think I want to do with the rest of my life. Surprisingly with more clarity than ever.

I am too tired to write about it now, and I might not have enough time to write about it tomorrow, so I'll just make a note of some realizations that have been meaningful to me on the road to 39 and hopefully I'll get to write about "what I want to do with the rest of my life" as I'm living it.

Noted, by me:

1. You do decide when to give love and when not to.
2. But you do not want to die without giving love, so give it.
3. Your fears can come true, but you get to choose what to make of them.
4. Sometimes, you can't find the good in people. That's when you need to bring out the good in you.
5. You can always walk away. But when you do, at least have an idea of what you're walking towards.

Thank you, I love you, good night.

She's so far away

One of the things my best friend and I used to laugh about was how she thought the lyrics to that 1994 Roxette song said, "She's so far away, like China in my eyes." I teased her for years over it, even wrote about it in an article on mondegreens. If you're our common friend, at least from our school days, I've surely told you that story.

Today, Sherwil walked me to the main road from her house in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, just in time to catch the 4.05pm bus back to Manila. I'd just spent two days with her, doing nothing and everything we used to do whenever we would have sleepovers at her parents' house in Muntinlupa.

We resumed a few rituals. We talked non-stop. We messaged friends. We took pictures. She made sure I had enough to eat. I made meaty spaghetti for her. We watched a movie. We slept beside each other (there's no extra room ready in their temporary house, and her husband was sweet enough to let me stay in their room while he spent two nights in his old bedroom in the house next door). We joked about taking baths. (I wanted to; she didn't. True story.)

But there were a few firsts. It was my first visit to her new home. We went to the few touristy spots she'd always been curious to see. I took a picture of her in front of the big sign that spelled out Cabiao, something she'd always wanted to do but couldn't because there was no one to go with who could take a nice picture of her without cringing.

Of course, we argued first about what the sign said: She insisted it said Cabiao, I insisted that it started with a letter N, and it turned out we were both right and talking about two different signs fronting Nabao Lake.

It was also our first sleepover that included a silent third party: her baby in her tummy. My future godchild. Sometimes, we'd talk to the little one.

As I settled in the First North Luzon Transit bus that would take me four to five hours away from my best friend's new home, the song "Vulnerable" started to play. I laughed a little, but also thought about how things have changed since 1994, and how there's a post-Sherwil's Wedding version of us, and how there will be a post-Baby Duque version of us as well.

Right now, she's a long bus or car ride away. When the baby comes, she may be a world away from Emily and me. I'll welcome the change, of course. I already love the little girl. Or boy. (Girl!)

But in a few months, Sherwil will be completely navigating the different world of motherhood, while Emily and I are still single and trying to find our footing in this one.

Girl friends change -- and in many good ways, but few that benefit their single friends -- when they start their own families. I can't help but think she'll be so far away.

You know, like China in my eyes.

Dream: A boyfriend and a dentist

I dreamt I had an amazing new boyfriend who did development work with a focus on counseling poor children. He was smart and kind, but also handsome in a rough way.

I met him when I was visiting his place of work with a girl friend. It was stressful because the children kept trying to steal stuff. My friend wanted to leave, but I caught a child running off with my phone, and I sort of understood the work he was trying to do. We clicked.

My friend left, I stayed, we talked, and he walked me home later that night. I put my arm around his, we looked at each other, and we were suddenly in love.

The catch: Being with him meant having to go to a dentist regularly, one that he had worked with before. The dentist's office was in Gotham City and the dentist was like a cross between Joker and The Penguin, with a face riddled with pus-filled pimples. I didn't have any cavities, but he liked to pry my mouth open and poke at all my teeth with his slimy penguin hands.

The dentist wasn't a bad person, but he was gross. He smacked his lips every time he looked into my open mouth. But my boyfriend was always in the room during my check-ups, offering moral support.

The last scene I remember left me with my mouth open, kept open by a mouth gag. The dentist was peering too closely into my mouth--again, I didn't have any cavities--and I was thinking of my new love and saying to myself, "This is so worth it. This is so worth it. This is so worth it."

Dream: Real friends eat together

I dreamt that I had received a care package from a US-based relative filled with healthy-ish, but hard-to-find junk food products from the Philippines. You could order it online from anywhere in the world and send it to Filipinos.

I surveyed the contents of the box, picked out the vegan ones, and set aside the other products for sharing with my loved ones.

I thought of giving some to my best friends Sherwil and Em. For Sherwil, I set aside different foods with dark chocolate in them. For Em, I set aside barbecue chips and other sweets.

When the time came to share them, my friends and I, who were located in different places, traveled via what felt like astral projection to converge in one dimension.

I woke up because I was smiling too hard, completely amused that we had astral-projected only so we could be together ... to eat junk food.

Love in sign language

We shared our row in the cinema with a few hearing-impaired moviegoers. I saw them before they came in, speaking to each other in sign language. Right next to me sat a couple, who raised the armrest and cuddled throughout the film.

I couldn't be certain of their hearing level, but the movie (Jason Bourne) didn't have subtitles, so I thought that maybe they could read lips. At some point in the movie, I saw that the girl was translating the movie into sign language for her boyfriend.

This is what love looks like.

"You could make this place beautiful"

Good Bones
By Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.


From here.

Filipino superstitions: Santelmo

This morning I asked our helper about the remaining blood on the street near our house. An old man lit a small bonfire of sticks and maybe discarded papers and other litter on the scene last night, she told me. Maybe tonight, if it doesn't rain, he'll do the same again. The tricycle drivers asked him to do it.

I asked her what if was for, was it just to clean the concrete? She told me that in a few days, if that isn't done, a Santelmo would appear.

I had to google that.

In Philippine mythology, if a person dies an unnatural, maybe violent, death while rain pours, his soul will be trapped in the place where his body is found. If not helped, the trapped soul will turn into a Santelmo--St. Elmo's Fire, or a ball of fire that resembles a skull and attacks people.

According to the myth, Filipinos light candles where a corpse is found to help release the trapped spirit so it wouldn't turn into a Santelmo.

(I didn't know this when I stepped out of the house to leave candles at the scene, I was simply offering prayers and wishing us all peace. But superstitions considered, now I'm glad I lit candles blessed by an exorcist priest.)

The high road

Two bodies were found in our village this morning, slumped next to each other inside a tricycle parked for the night. I don't know who they are and why they're now dead. Maybe they were bad people; maybe they made poor choices that led to their fate. Tonight, I don't want to guess anymore. My Facebook newsfeed has been keeping a tally, and I am on the side that calls for respect for human rights.

Early this afternoon, I lit a candle for these two souls, and as I did, I found myself despairing whether we as a people were fated to live our lives in such indignities: barely eking out a living, perpetually clamoring for a savior, then hanging all our hopes on heroes who often don't have a clue. Are we really doomed to live such small lives?

Then today also came news of the UN Arbitral Tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines, saying there is no legal basis for China's 9-dash line claim. I am reminded there remains a high road; that our small country, with what little resources we have, can take on a giant like China and argue for what is right.

There is a high road. There are many people, mostly poor, falling dead like flies. But there is a high road.

Dream: A note from Neil Young


I dreamt that I was one of a handful of people to attend Neil Young's book launch at National Bookstore in Glorietta. For some reason, Neil walked out after being introduced and his publicist took over to talk about the coffee table book. She had interesting stories so we (Jimple, Paul and I) stayed. But I was starting to worry about the book signing that would follow because there were only four or five of us left.

We bought books anyway (Paul bought an extra copy for a friend) and lingered too long at the book signing table. Just as we were about to leave, Neil arrived, a smile on his face. He started signing our books, asking questions about us as he did. He wrote personalized messages with his blue fountain pen -- to Jimple, he wrote something about music and life; to Paul, something about yoga and India; and to me, he scribbled a note that I didn't read right away. Later, I told myself, so I could have a moment.

We walked out of Glorietta, leaving Neil at an empty table, carrying our books like treasure. Paul had his in a reusable shopping bag; Jimple had his book wrapped in his black corduroy jacket; and I held mine, wrapped in plastic, close to my chest. I was wondering what message Neil had for me when I woke up.

In today's journey to kindness

I was a bit mean to the female server at Burgoo when I asked her about their lunch set that said pasta and nachos. I asked if I could choose the type of pasta and she said no. I asked if it had meat in it and she said, "Parang ganoon na rin." What the heck of an answer is "Sort of"?

So I snapped a little and said, but still nicely, "Importante ito. Meron ba o wala?" I just wanted a simple yes or no. But the manager stepped in and asked, "What is it that you would like to order, ma'am?"

Maybe he thought I was having a difficult time understanding the lunch sets or the server was having difficulty explaining it to me (it's relatively new). Or maybe the server herself was new.

But I started my sentence with "I'm vegetarian" and he already knew what I wanted. "There's no meat in the pasta and we'll serve the cheese on the side," he said.

This is why I love Burgoo. And I left a tip for the server I snapped at.

How to make a life

The other day, I took a tricycle driven by a man who took his business to another level. He had a portable TV and DVD player, with remote control, for the passenger. The reception was crisp and clear, volume just right. And below the player, he displayed around a dozen twist-type stainless steel and faux leather ballpoint pens for sale for P5 each. I wanted to buy out his stock, but I changed my mind because I wanted to share the experience with other passengers.

My speech at my best friend's wedding

April was all about saying goodbye to a huge part of my life. My best friend since I was 12 got married on the first Saturday of May, two days before the national elections, amid political rallies ending the dirtiest campaign season I've ever witnessed.

In April, my two best friends and I went on a road trip to send off Aweng's singlehood and her impending move to Nueva Ecija, and we split our time straddling this particular life change and the change that was coming to the country.

Now both the wedding and the elections are over. As always, I try to look at the changes in my life with hope. Try, being the operative word. I'm happy for Aweng, and I know her life will always be blessed. As for the country ... let's just say I try to be hopeful, but also wary. But that's another story.

Anyway, here's my Maid of Honor speech at my best friend's wedding. I'm posting it here for posterity.

***

"Aweng and I became friends in Grade 6. We were 11 or 12, and I whispered to her the answers to a test she was still answering even as our Religion teacher told us to pass our papers, finished or not finished.

Aweng had her own best friend and I had mine, but when by chance we were classmates again at 13, in high school, we knew right then and there that we were meant to be best friends forever.

I still remember looking at the first year high school class list and seeing Aweng's name. She was the girl with thick glasses and pigtails; the girl who was slow in answering tests; the girl who brought all her books and notebooks to school every day, even when they were not needed.

I was glad that there was one person I liked in a class of mostly strangers. But I also knew my life was forever changed. I thought, "Okay, so that's it. I'm doomed to be a high school nerd."

And what nerds we were! Nerds who fumbled our way through high school and college (and later law school for Aweng) and then ... everything adulthood, holding each other's hands, powered by love and laughter.

There is a lifetime of memories, and most of them, even the not so good ones, we can laugh at now.

But tonight, one memory stands out: I remember the hours before our first high school dance. We were each other's dates, as we would be in many other dances and parties through the years.

We walked around Tahanan Village, where they still lived, and found ourselves in the park. It was getting dark. We were already late for the dance, but laughing, we stopped to lie down on the grass and waited for the first star to come out.

Later, there would be no time to shower before heading off to the dance, and we would giggle to each other all night at that little secret.

That night when we were 13 we wished for true love. It was a wish we would keep making, in increasing levels of wisdom and discernment and maturity, in the many years before Dingkoy.

Tonight, I am very happy, Aweng, that your wish has come true. And that it came true in all the ways you wanted and needed it to be.

I am also very happy, Dingkoy, that you have brought out the best in my best friend.

You are both blessed with each other's love.

May all your dreams keep coming true. I love you!"

On closing doors and what to leave open



I have always been afraid of endings. I am not sure why I developed a fear of change, especially since much of my life has been lived in longing for something better. This is probably why I often hold on to things too tightly and tend to let go too late.

As I live through my thirties, however, I have come face to face with one ending after another, most of them predictable and inevitable, some of them unexpected.

I grieved through many of these changes, even the ones I wanted or even caused to happen, knowing that these were the end of some important stages of my life.

The endings I grieved the most, naturally, were those of friendships. Before some of those friendships came to an end, I had only known loyalty and grief that flows towards reconciliation. I had had disagreements with friends before, but we had always patched things up to either bring back the old order of things or build something new and stronger.

I had never known myself to be one to detach, especially after loving so deeply. I used to call bull on people giving up on people they still loved. But now, even without understanding how it can come to this, I know in my heart that there are some doors that need to remain closed as much as there are some doors that have to be left open even if nobody ever enters again.

One night, a long time ago, in a foreign country, I cried realizing a friendship had come to an abrupt end. The next morning I woke up with a conviction that I deserved better. All is forgiven and forgotten, and there is nothing but good wishes and affection, but that door is closed and labeled for that.

One night, much recently, in Manila, a friend I had loved since my teens told me to get out of her life. I had not imagined life with that door closed, not at all, and it hurt to imagine how things might have to be different. But perhaps that friend is a different person now, and maybe it hurts her to be with the person that I have become, so maybe -- and by maybe I mean I hope not -- our paths are headed in completely different directions. Still, love has left me holding the knob, ready for the door to open. That door is labeled for that.

Last night, I heard from someone I never thought I would hear from again. "I am looking for an old friend," he said, "Are you her? Do you remember me?"

Was I still her? I asked myself, as I composed my quick reply. What I did not write was: Of course I remember you. How can I not? You broke my heart.

Through the years, I have been revisiting that door, thinking of locking it up and managing to talk myself into just leaving it a little bit open until one of two things would happen: either I would understand why what happened had to happen or I would stop caring. So close to the latter, too many years later, suddenly the door swings open.

I understand, of course, that this can mean yet another stage, that of me after him, is changing.

There is a difference, though: Whatever happens this time around, I have already decided it will have a happy ending.

"you loved a man with more hands than a parade of beggars, and here you stand"


Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell
By Marty McConnell

leaving is not enough; you must
stay gone. train your heart
like a dog. change the locks
even on the house he’s never
visited. you lucky, lucky girl.
you have an apartment
just your size. a bathtub
full of tea. a heart the size
of Arizona, but not nearly
so arid. don’t wish away
your cracked past, your
crooked toes, your problems
are papier mache puppets
you made or bought because the vendor
at the market was so compelling you just
had to have them. you had to have him.
and you did. and now you pull down
the bridge between your houses.
you make him call before
he visits. you take a lover
for granted, you take
a lover who looks at you
like maybe you are magic. make
the first bottle you consume
in this place a relic. place it
on whatever altar you fashion
with a knife and five cranberries.
don’t lose too much weight.
stupid girls are always trying
to disappear as revenge. and you
are not stupid. you loved a man
with more hands than a parade
of beggars, and here you stand. heart
like a four-poster bed. heart like a canvas.
heart leaking something so strong
they can smell it in the street.

Dream: A television studio tour


I dreamt that my mother, my eight-year-old niece Keona and I had stumbled upon an ABS-CBN tour. It was free, it would take only 30 minutes, and there was a man giving away large packs of butter coconut cookies. I accepted a pack, looked at the ingredients and said it wasn't vegan. But I took the pack with me anyway.

As we walked to the start of the line, the guides started calling out to all the tour participants: "Come on, run!" And so we ran, from one dark studio to another, through one dark hallway to another, seeing nothing of interest.

"No wonder this is free," I thought to myself. "This is the suckiest tour ever." The tour guides, all long-time ABS-CBN employees currently not working on shows, were tasked to handle tours by management as an effort to bring the station closer to the public.

Then they put us on a bus driven by a cameraman. He said we were going to the ABS-CBN village behind the compound. The station had built a village for shoot locations and also for temporary residences for all station employees and talents when they were working on projects.

As we drove around the village, which actually just had two streets, we passed by a TV reporter interviewing Boboy Garovillo and Ian Veneracion on the sidewalk. We also caught a glimpse of another actor, one whose name I could never recall, closing a house gate. He didn't look happy to be there, and I wondered if the celebrity sightings were staged for our tour.

Then we passed a Balinese-inspired house that had a sign that said, "Chat's Resort." It had a big yard and a pool. "I have been here before," I said to no one in particular. The memory was hazy, but I just knew it wasn't my first time in the place.

Then I remembered: Once upon a time, I worked for ABS-CBN and our team wanted to hold a "team-building activity." We went to Chat's Resort. We arrived so early that I had to buy coffee from the nearby café. I was even dressed for an outing -- neon sundress, beach shorts, flip-flops -- and I was convinced that Chat's Resort was in Batangas.

We parked in front of the café beside Chat's Resort. The driver told us we were going to walk around the village and instructed us to wait at the café for our guide for this leg of the tour.

The café, more like a canteen actually, was self-service, being run by another off-duty tech guy. One of the tour participants ordered two full meals for himself. As someone took his order, the tech guy chatted with me about the tour.

"Too bad Lucky and Bea just left," he said, "Bad timing. But Popoy is still around, and I think you will be interviewing Popoy."

Popoy who? I wanted to ask. Of course I had an idea, but I didn't want to break the spell! But --

The tour participant paid for his order and the cashier didn't have enough change. Instead, he offered the guy free hopia. The guy helped himself to seven pieces, but they could no longer fit his plate. So he handed me one.

I was biting into the hopia and thinking of what question to ask John Lloyd Cruz -- "Did you ever dream of being in a festival like Berlinale?" -- when I woke up.

Dream: The big one


I dreamt I was in a UP campus and it had older buildings built in the early 1900s on top of huge boulders. These buildings looked much like the buildings of UP Diliman but were made entirely of polished stone.

The stairs in the older buildings were always uneven; sometimes, a step would be too far from the next and would be too small to fit even a child's foot. Sometimes, the handrail had disintegrated so you had only wobbly balustrades, if not their exposed steel bars, to help you.

I was working my way down from the fourth floor when I felt the earthquake. It started as a smooth and consistent shaking, and I propped my hands on a wall to avoid getting dizzy. Then the shaking picked up strength, and I just knew it was "the big one."

I ran out, then stopped to pray and plan what to do and where to go and how to contact family. I looked up and saw that behind me the facade of the newer buildings had already started crumbling. I turned my head -- then realized that the campus being on top of a hill, I had a good view of its surroundings -- and saw black clouds swirling in the air, turning into a tornado.

This will pass, I told myself, as I slowly walked through falling debris and saw cracks appearing on the walls of every building I passed. I kept walking until I found my feet on top of solid rock.

The earth stopped shaking. The buildings creaked and continued crumbling. I chose one that was closest to the boulder: the geological sciences department building.

I found a room and forced its door open -- only to find a group of South Asian male scientists trying to enter the same room from the other side because it was the room with the best bathroom on the floor.

Even as the scientists pushed past me to use the bathroom, that room became my base for the next couple of days. I shared it with others, mostly female UP dormers, because they had supplies.

Occasionally, we would overhear the scientists discuss how beautiful Filipinas were because of our long history of foreign occupation.

Something's been living in our bathroom?


A few weeks ago, I had breakfast with our cleaning lady Jane. She told me she had had a welt on her cheek, and she had consulted a folk healer about it.

The folk healer asked her if she had been cleaning a bathroom. "How did you know?" Jane asked.

"Because you got that from the bathroom you were cleaning. It was a kapre who did that to you."

Then the folk healer told her that the construction work going on in the land near our house, the land that would soon become yet another gated village, had razed some old trees. A kapre had lost his home and was now living in our bathroom.

The folk healer instructed Jane to leave an offering to the kapre in our bathroom, an offering of coins, candy and cigarettes.

But Jane remembered that I had told her a few months back about a talk I had attended featuring an exorcist priest, during which I learned that according to Catholic teaching, anything of the occult, including the tiniest ritual, even if supposedly done for the good, could open the door to more.

So she left the decision to me. I haven't done anything yet. I don't feel there's a kapre anywhere inside our house, that is if I knew what having a kapre around would feel like.

Chatting with my GrabCar driver about the elections


I took a GrabCar to school today because I was running late. The driver was chatty, and when he found out I was from UP, he asked me who I'd vote for. He was also undecided, he said, about for whom to vote for president.

We had a long, enlightening discussion. We were both anti-Binay.

He listened intently as I told him what I had learned from a journalist about election-related trends (like how the religious groups only matter in close races or how Filipino voters have never voted candidates who'd already lost an earlier presidential bid into the presidency).

He asked interesting questions and contributed a lot of equally interesting details too, being up to date with issues. I was stoked to meet an enlightened voter. Then I asked him who he'd vote for VP.

"Cayetano," he said.

Curious, I asked him why.

"Because we have the same surname."

I could hear the pride in his voice, even when he said he there was no relation.

Looking back at what I remember of the Marcos years



I'd always thought I wasn't personally affected by Martial Law in the 1980s. How wrong I was.

My family and I lived small, quiet lives in what was then the sleepy town of Las Piñas, where a trip to a hilltop McDonald's was the highlight of any special occasion and the worst crime I could imagine was someone stealing the steel drum that served as our trash can in the dead of the night.

I was five years old when Ninoy was assassinated. When we heard the news, my father was working in Zambales. We didn't have a telephone. My Uncle Jessie came over and told my mom, his youngest sister, not to go out.

We didn't talk about how it could have been Marcos who had Ninoy killed -- maybe they talked about it out of my earshot -- but I remember later looking at Ninoy's body splayed on the tarmac, searching for the red of his blood through the grainy TV reception, and wondering what he could have done to merit such a fate.

Was he a bad person? I thought to myself.

And: Could that happen to me, if I were a bad person? Could it happen to anyone I loved?

My earliest memory of Marcos, I can trace back to kindergarten. It was during a United Nations-themed school parade. I wore a kimono, and my classmate Kristine was dressed as a typical Dutch girl.

"Who is the president of the Philippines?" Kristine asked me.

I didn't even know what a president was. I said as much.

"Lagot ka," she said. You're in trouble.

Kristine explained that her mom had told her the president was the leader of the country, much like a king. It was something we should know as well as we knew the Patriotic Oath and the National Anthem. "When somebody asks you," she said, "you should know who Marcos is."

On and off, I would hear about Marcos and Imelda. Other kids would say they were the richest people in the Philippines; they owned the whole country. "Even McDonald's?" I would ask. And they would say yes, everything your eyes can see. I once looked at the rubber slippers on my feet and thought, "But how can these be theirs?"

Some kids would tell me Imelda was the most beautiful Filipina, even if it wasn't true. There was Isabelle Granada, I thought, and even Vilma. But by then I knew to stay quiet or else "lagot ka." It was often said as a joke, sure, but there was always a tiny shadow of threat trailing closely behind.

I was eight years old during the Snap Elections. I wasn't sure what was going on, except that there were colorful vehicles going around the village, parking in different areas to play funny campaign songs and distribute stickers and posters. Also this: One of our neighbors draped a Marcos-Tolentino campaign tarp on our wall, and we didn't want to offend him by taking it down.

One day, my older brother, then nine, got his hands on a Marcos-Tolentino sticker. He stuck it on the wall of the clothes cabinet we shared and drew horns on Marcos and a speech bubble that said, "I am evil."

That year was when we were preparing to receive our first communion at the Catholic school I went to, and what disturbed me first was having to see the devil every time I opened the cabinet to get my clothes.

I may have told my mother about it.

When my mother saw the sticker, she scolded my brother and told him to take it down. She said the police might see it and pick them up for questioning. Did he want that to happen? she asked.

"Never do that outside the house," she told us all.

My brother tried to peel the sticker off the wall, but the glue was so strong, large pieces of it stayed stuck on the wood. For years, its remnants stayed hidden like a dirty secret inside our crumbling plywood cabinet: white, red and blue, with Marcos' unmistakable hairline and the faded words that still said "I am evil" if you looked close enough.

Thirty years later, I realize my mother may not have been entirely serious when she told my brother the police might come and pick us up because of his sticker antics. But I am disturbed all the same that the fear was real enough to enter the realm of half-meant jokes.

What disturbs me the most, especially now that I have an eight-year-old niece, is my reaction: I had wanted to tell the police before they discovered the deed by themselves, never mind if what was left of it was a small patch of sticker paper hidden behind a small pile of clothes in a small cabinet in a small room in a small house in a small village in small town Las Piñas.

I had wanted to confess.

Maybe admission would translate to leniency, I thought, and we could go back to living our small, quiet lives without fear that what happened to Ninoy, or a least a small version of it, would happen to us too.

I must have considered it long and hard, because I can still see the scene as I had imagined it so clearly that part of me is convinced it is a memory: Policemen in their 80s brown uniforms and shiny patent leather shoes, carrying black policemen clubs, casting away our clothes to uncover what what left of the Marcos-Tolentino sticker; us, saying we were sorry.

Perhaps the twenty-something me, the one who enjoyed too much freedom and was exposed to too much risk, would agree that living with a little fear was nothing if it translated to order.

But now, at 38, I look at my nieces and nephews, all of whom are almost the same age as my cousins and I were during the Marcos years. I see how precocious they can be, how open about their thoughts, and how willing to go on adventures and unafraid to take risks.

They have big lives ahead of them.

The only order they need, I believe, is the order they bring into their lives as they are being raised to be good people.

Fear is never -- never again -- a way to live.

I've started eating a whole-food, plant-based diet

Back in October last year, I decided to commit to 30 days of eating mostly vegan. I wasn't feeling my personal best and was at my heaviest weight ever. I'd also finally seen Forks Over Knives, after a friend recommended it to me in 2014.

I had my hesitations, of course. I'd always been a satisfied omnivore. Would I last without meat? Could I possibly give up meat for good?

But my brain felt safe knowing I was only going to do it for one month, so the initial resistance quickly melted away.

After 30 days, I was feeling so good I decided to go another 30 days. And then another. Now, I'm over 20 pounds lighter and on my fifth month as a transitioning vegan.

Except my diet isn't really just vegan. It's more whole-food, plant-based (WFPB), as prescribed by Dr. John McDougall. You can read about the diet here.

I'm not yet very good at my new way of eating, especially when I eat out. Added oils aren't allowed, for example, but there aren't a lot of oil-free vegan choices in this country, so I usually end up ordering some form of vegan pasta dish that usually comes with lots of oil in it.

I also still have my little slip-ups. I've had some milk chocolate, some cheese in my pasta, and a yogurt drink at Swagat that I couldn't pass up. I've also had some cake and whipped cream. And marshmallow that I'd mistakenly thought was vegan.

I have a lot to learn and unlearn. But I choose not to sweat those slip-ups. I think I'll always be a transitioning vegan the way alcoholics are always recovering alcoholics.

But let me celebrate this: In almost five months, I've managed to avoid any form of meat. I'm happy to say I no longer crave meat and dairy.

I'm also getting better at eating out. I count it a success that I've only had to order salad once. When I started, I told myself I wouldn't default to salad, because I do not particularly enjoy salad without protein. Salads also feel cold in the tummy, and I've developed a preference for warm food, especially soup.

It's still a long journey towards good health and my ideal weight. There's an exercise routine that needs to be established. There's my needing to learn how to cook vegan. And there's the need for meditation, maybe, or yoga.

It's a long road, but I'm glad I decided to go on it.

Dream: Welcome to Ancientsia

I was in Camarines Sur with Sherwil, a girl who switched from a high school friend to Lorie, and Jimple. Jimple had managed to come because it was near his home town. CamSur, however, was in a highly elevated place, so at night there was zero visibility due to fog.

I had made a couple of friends on the bus, and when we rolled into the station, they immediately set out in the fog to make reservations at Midnight, supposedly a happening club that was in all the DIY CamSur itineraries online.

But we weren't there for that. We were in CamSur for the experience of a special Ancient Age-themed inn we'd heard a lot of but knew nothing about.

We checked in. The rooms were all beige and wooden, the beds not even soft. I was disappointed -- until a voice on loudspeaker told us to hold on to anything. The entire building started shaking, then it started moving like a gigantic rotating stage prop (and the voice on the loudspeaker said as much, more poetically), dislodging itself from the site.

First, all I could think of was, "There would have been no plumbing?! What about the plumbing?" Then I held on to dear life as the rickety structure rolled on the highway for half an hour then slowly entered what looked like a gigantic driveway.

"Welcome to Ancientsia," the voice said. Then it proceeded to give us a tour of all the amenities. There was a grayish field that was Pompeii after the volcanic eruption, a bright sunny field where you could dust off some fossils as if you were in Greece, expansive diggings on the ground that was straight out of Egypt, et cetera, et cetera. It all looked authentic; most of the fossils, one of a dinosaur, were even real.

What struck us most was an area that was a reimagination of ancient Philippines, tropical and lush. There was a small jungle, and you had to cross a land bridge to get to the marsh, then a short walk would get you to a lake. The "lake" was a mishmash of bodies of water separated by mud dikes.

There was one section with a natural hot spring like the one in Pinatubo (you could boil an egg), while another had what looked like thick boiling mud. Another section had sweet and cold water from a natural spring, and that was the visitors' favorite because it was closest to a swimming pool.

Entering the area, we were given hard hats and a choice of containers (a plastic jug for liquid samples, a plastic box for more solid specimens). I stayed behind because I wanted my helmet in a color that "meant something," but the staff manning the entrance had no idea what I meant.

When I caught up with my friends, there was a small drama brewing. Jimple had disappeared for a couple of hours with a new guy friend, and Lorie and Sherwil were upset at the principle of it because he had helped that guy friend "get some."

I showed them my plastic water bottle. "Let's collect samples," I wanted to say, but I dropped it into the water and it floated away, slowly melting. Then I noticed how the tourists had dirtied the water, all sections of it.

Sherwil, Lorie and Jimple made up and they said they were going to wash up and maybe we could check out Midnight. Since I had arrived late, I lingered.

When I was alone, the waters in all sections suddenly receded, taking away all traces of human presence, and yet some of the drains and water spouts were revealed like a magician's hand. Fresh water quickly replaced what had been drained and when all the pools were filled, the place was magical again: bubbles and tiny waves sparkling in the sunset's light, and there was even flying fish in the cooler waters.

It was beautiful and I was alone. So I called out to my friends, and they came running back. We spent a few more hours in the natural spring section, talking about our lives. Lorie was the last to speak -- when Jimple suddenly turned into John Lloyd Cruz.

"You haven't seen me," she said, "as in really seen me." We nodded. Then she asked, "Can you see me?"

I said, "Awww."

Then I excused myself to use the restroom.

Dream: I give you my personal best

There was a small tunnel connecting SM Southmall and our village gate. It was maybe 20 or 30 feet long, and you'd have to crawl or slide on your belly to go through. At each end of the tunnel were books where you could record the time it took you to go through. Every day, the person who broke the day's record got a small prize from SM and bragging rights.

Keona and I tried to do it. I surprised myself by completing it under five minutes. Keona, however, did it under three. Then a famous athlete followed us and did it under two -- with her bike in tow!

Soon after, however, her record was broken by this guitarist from an indie band. He'd been through a tough spell, he scribbled in the record book, and he offered his new physical prowess to a bandmate, their singer, who helped him through drugs and depression and a broken heart with the beauty of poetry. "I give you my personal best, man," he wrote, "and it's a gift that's going to keep giving."

And even as he was writing that, Keona was already getting into the tunnel to try and try again.

(Before I fell asleep, I was reading up on kaizen.)

Because you are what you do



One of my favorite teachers once talked about how when he was a young writer he would introduce himself by saying, "I'm Cirilo. I'm a poet." Eventually, he said, he came to realize how pointless that was. "You are what you do," he said, no other introductions were necessary.

Those words have been floating in my head since I first heard them. I'd heard them before, of course, in different variations, but hearing them said by a brilliant writer, one who speaks and writes and laughs about this loathsome heartbreaking lovely cursed art, made them truer than ever.

Last year, in conversations with close friends, I had confessed that I didn't feel like I could call myself a writer anymore simply because I wasn't writing. I was still doing a lot of writing; I had a job developing training materials, after all. But it wasn't writing writing and I was feeling more and more removed from a dream I had nurtured since I was 13.

Then later last year, I came to discover that writing wasn't my only passion. The opportunity to try corporate training fell on my lap, and I jumped in despite the voice in my head giving me a million reasons why it wouldn't work out. It was terrifying; it was amazingly fulfilling. Now I have a brand new happy path to pave.

So I told myself, "Maybe I am more of a trainer than I am a writer." I toyed with the idea of giving up creative writing completely. I imagined myself fifty years from now wistfully telling a future grandchild that I used to be a writer. I even won a literary award, I would tell her, reliving an old forgotten glory like too many old people do.

I could still be happy, I reasoned out, I would still be me.

But then in October I met a mirror: a sixty-something woman home from Canada for a Christmas visit. We were having coffee, and when she found out I had studied creative writing in college, her eyes lit up in recognition. "I used to love literature," she said, "Ask me about any writer, and I would know his work."

But when did you stop? I wanted to ask her. Is it even possible to stop?

These days, I have come to realize that if there is one thing I must stop, it's this silly business of telling myself who I am based on who I think I am and who I think I am not.

Am I a trainer? Yes, and I'm writing this in the hour I gave my 15 learners to prepare their final group activity.

Am I a writer? I hesitate, because there is still a grad school thesis that needs to be picked up, but I also have two professional writing assignments lined up.

I think I wasted too much time ruminating on being a writer--or being something or someone else, for that matter. This is the time for doing, and that should be enough.

Dream: Downgrade

I dreamt that some kind of apocalyptic event was happening, and as we were getting away from it, my sister Kai bit my smartphone. It broke in half and I was upset because I didn't want to have to buy a new one. The phone still worked, sort of, but it couldn't be put back together anymore because not only was the screen shattered, the main shell was also cracked.

I was so upset my sister, feeling guilty, set me up for one of the charity television shows where they surprise poor people with gifts. The main host was Eddie Gutierrez; sometimes his other kids, especially the ones who aren't as famous, would co-host.

They put me on a tight close up, a camera shoved at my face. Eddie tried to coax out a sob story from me, but all I could say was my sister bit my phone and broke it. I couldn't even fake cry.

Their disappointment was thick in the air as Eddie wrapped up the show. But they still gave me their surprise gift: a Huawei phone several notches lower than my Samsung Galaxy Note.

I tried to be thankful. I did.

Dream: Starman?

I dreamt that I had joined an international group of servicemen for a boat, plane or spaceship for lunch. They didn't say which, but they all had uniforms with marks of their designation. They had stopped by Manila for some R&R.

They took a group picture, and as the picture was being taken, one of the men I had been talking to put his arm around me until it became more of a hug.

Then he pulled me aside. "Let's take a walk around this place," he said. The place was like Malacañan Palace, by the Pasig River, but I couldn't make sense of the signs. I could read the words, but none of them meant anything to me.

He held my hand as we walked. He was nice and flirtatious, and the conversation was interesting. I wondered if we would kiss.

We went on a small unmanned boat on the river, and the view was amazing. "How could I have known this would be Manila's future?" I asked him, pointing at the amazing colors of the skyline. The buildings were painted to complement the sunset. The riverbanks were clean and filled with tropical flowers.

He suddenly pulled me close to him, just in time for me not to get splashed by a speeding convoy on the the river. Five or six speedboats passed, one of them, the only white one, bearing a sign that said SHEIKH.

"A diplomatic visit, maybe," I said to my new friend. He looked at the armed men on the other boats and nodded.

When the convoy had passed, our boat, still unmanned, started moving, bringing us back to the restaurant where we first met. There were more signs, even a billboard, but I still could not understand the words.

"Where are we?" I asked him. He said something, and in my mind I heard it as places I rarely go to, like Novaliches or Caloocan or Kuala Lumpur.
"Is this even the Philippines?" I wondered to myself. "Earth?"

It was dark. It started raining. The streets were inundated with green sludge. It was starting to feel like Bladerunner.

He let go of my hand and waded into the green sludge. "Yuck, I won't do that!" I said. But I didn't have to. He continued wading away from me, not even looking back as he climbed up a waiting bus.

I stood in the rain, on a step that was slowly sinking into the green flood, the increasingly alien billboards blinking brightly above me, wondering what the hell that was all about.

Do you think I could change it in a day?


This evening, while crossing the footbridge from Robinson's Galleria, I passed a blind busker. I wouldn't have stopped, but then I realized he was performing his stripped down version of this sad, beautiful love song that I hadn't heard in a while.

I used to listen to it every day, years ago, the last time I was in love. That was a sad story, unfortunately, and I would dwell on the following lines when listening to this song:

"Wishing that maybe
in a year or two
we could laugh
and let it all out"

I had the same wish, but I never got it. Instead, tonight, I got a blind busker on the ugly Robinson's Galleria footbridge, under the shaking Ortigas flyover, singing a song I now once again appreciate for its own sake, its old context having faded away.

I dropped a coin in the busker's box to thank him for the new memory.