Tuesday, August 30

Revisions

This is what I feared about grad school: revising something I love, and revising it until I no longer recognized it (which is exactly what is happening to this story). The specifics of this current tussle (empire writes back, defamiliarization, and a point about racisim) are too convoluted, so instead I will tell a story about another story.

Last October, I wrote something about a Spanish cougar who comes to the country. It's a story that I feel very strongly about (the beach, loneliness, old age, and memories of that good-bad Pagudpud summer). It was workshopped in Ateneo and the comments were varied. There was a consensus that it was "new" and "different," but there were also questions central to the very story, as in, "Do we need this story? This character?" The project, which thankfully came across, was post-colonial. Blatantly post-colonial, and some quarters (yes, I'm looking at you, BSS) thought either (1) we don't need foreign characters in post-colonial stories (huh), or (2) why the hell did you take on the voice of an old Spanish lady, you fool?

I revised the story for a few months, and when February came, I submitted it to Likhaan (which, to canon-obsessed me, is, like, Holy Grail). I stuck to first person and did more research, reconfigured the plot, tweaked the structure, and added more ambiguity (I always thought ambiguity is always made of win, a view that is subverted in every single workshop in non-realist fiction class). I don't think I sacrified its post-colonial import in polishing the craft; in fact, the project gained from the revision, as it made things more subtle, less obtrusive, and ultimately more potent (I think).

In Dumaguete, they found another glaring problem, so I was thankful that the story was accepted. Hahaha. Of course, it is not beyond revision, but I am beyond revising it. For now. I've forgotten the point of this story, but I know a thing or two about pandering to tastes. I hated having to revise something that already pleased me, but now, around three-fourths of the way to finishing it, I admit: there is more than one way for a story to be, in my mind, beautiful.

Thursday, August 25

Language.


"My classmates and I used to complain about Filipino all the time. Filipino was a chore, like washing the dishes; it was not the language of learning. It was the language we used to speak to the people who washed our dishes."

Nakakaloka.

Pero pinapauna ko na, na wala akong ascendancy para awayin ang kuyang ito, dahil sa Ingles ako nagsusulat (at minsan nag-iisip, nananaginip). At binalak kong isulat ito sa Filipino, pero hindi ko napagtagumpayan (pero sige nga: isalin mo ang "banality of evil" sa Filipino?).

But what I'm actually most bothered with is not the author's views per se but the way in which he expressed and processed them. That is, with so matter-of-fact nonchalance. That is, with hands-behind-the-head acceptance. "English is the language of learning ... Filipino is the language of the streets," this dichotomy so certain in his mind. I am bothered that he, in his perfect world where English is superior, is unbothered. Who was it who said that violence is harshest when it is rendered most invisible because of its ubiquity?

When people take it as "natural" things like these -- English being superior to Filipino because of a global order they are born to (forgetting conveniently that Japan, Korea, and even China choose to be immune to such order) -- they forget that this stature is something that is fiercely maintained and defended, by Hollywood-variety onslaught of cultural impositions on one hand, and the quasi-global policing mandate of the US on the other. 

I wonder if it's too much to ask for people to think of language, as a tool for human agency, as necessarily political, and Filipino, as the product of decades-long conflict, as something that comes with a lot of baggage.

"Perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish. For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned."

I am tempted to invoke a legion of cultural and linguistic theorists here, from Hannah Arendt to Pierre Bourdieu. See: "banality of evil." See: "symbolic violence."

I am tempted to write a very lengthy message to the author that no, this is not a perfect world, and do not accept it to be so. Do not think you are helpless with a schema that is thrust upon you. You can do something. Study Filipino. Read Filipino works. At the end, everything is a choice. Do not claim helplessness. And if you learn that Filipino is beautiful and it is yours, do not perpetrate the same cycle of violence to your kids. Filipino is not the language of the learned? Realize it is wrong, and do something.

But I think the article (and author) is innocent enough. I'm just so sad that someone like him, perhaps educated, perhaps in a good school, thinks the way he thinks.

Sunday, August 21

Tears.

Love is many and truth is just,
And so we are; Both
What we choose,
And we refuse.

- Afternoon of a Sea Faun, Edith Tiempo (1919 - 2011)

I am never star-struck. Then I met Edith Tiempo.

Maybe met, in hindsight, is inaccurate. Maybe stared in awe in the face of such fragile, fragile sublimity? We went to her house one day last summer. All my lit subjects had a requisite Edith Tiempo poem. Of course, I was excited.

But I am not a formalist, I remember telling myself. Glenn, that you are in Dumaguete, bastion of formalism, is already odd. Stop this foolishness. Then Edith Tiempo walked into the expansive living room. Maybe walked is inaccurate. Maybe landed. It was a moment. Some of my co-fellows blinked back tears.

I didn't cry then. Then during a dinner dedicated to her, she gave a message. Coherent. Eloquent. At 92. Heartfelt. I pulled Philline outside, behind our war-era bus, in the guise of a smoke. We were both crying. We both found direction.

Thank you, Mom Edith. More tears today. But thank you.

Wednesday, August 17

Poems.

Mind-boggling day/s. Finished Goon Squad early Wednesday and was, naturally, exalting virtues of fiction zombie-like then come workshop time was completely turned around when first batch of Bakla and the City poems (v. tentative title/idea) received well in class. (Because of dire need of affirmation of late, will shamelessly try to quote the nice words here; also, for nostalgia.) J. Neil said something like, "One of the best things about being a teacher is discovering new voices." By then, already got tingling sensation in tummy. Then he continues, blah blah first time to have me as student, blah blah flower between the pages of a book blah blah "wonderful" (in that typical gushing way of his).

But needy, self-absorbed moments aside, realized what went well in this workshop and didn't (as well) in fiction workshop: intention. J. Neil completely (as in to the bone) nailed what I wanted to render/achieve, while Jing and (some) classmates were like tilapia hauled to manure-laden soil, flailing and writhing about helplessly, mouthing stuff that bloody missed the point. (Of course, also recalibrating work as some of the disconnect falls on me.)

Shet forgot whole point of this. Will not abandon you, fiction. I think. Just boggles the mind the many ways words can evoke shit, like poetry.


PS. Will review Goon Squad soon.
PPS. Stayed the night at Alaysa's. After class, had dinner at Mashitta with Alan, then walked to Makatarungan. Realized life can be so easy without commuting (but then whole city-city project would've been non-existent as well - Hay ang gulo-gulo!).

Sunday, August 14

Consumptions.

Barrage of issues going pip pip successfully drowned not by alcohol but by long, sobering talks and foray into bowels of Manila, a journey that included, among others, (1) getting squished in the LRT, (2) seeing Nanette Inventor in Wai Ying, and (3) walking around Carriedo at night and shouting "Quiapo? Quiapo?" to bewildered jeepney drivers who grimaced as their way of saying "Quiapo is two minutes away by foot, you morons," as it indeed was. ANYWAY:
  • Halfway through A Visit from the Goon Squad (Egan). Why you so good, Jenny? Why? Ha? Why? OK.
  • Chanced upon The Shape of Things last night. V. creepy twist at the end. Was reduced to drool-faced fool with jaw on floor blabbering "What the fuck? What the fuck?" repeatedly like parrot. Was surprised to find negative reviews online as mind was completely blown to smithereens in the aftermath, mind racing with ideas about nature of art, perception of reality, Paul Rudd, or similar.
  • Was eating hopia from Salazar's while watching/reading.
  • Wonder if it's fair to compare workshop classes to Silliman (or even Ateneo). Obviously, one teacher plus other grad students can't compare to several panelists and other fellows. Just expected discussions to be more comprehensive, in-depth, and, well, longer than 30 minutes or so. There were, on that topic, a lot of points I wanted to raise, including a defense of my intention/project, but there is nothing more depressing than a writer trying to defend his piece/convince others it didn't suck as they thought it did. Gosh, will stop now.
  • I mean seriously, you take it when Ricky de U. says the kind of story you want to tell "needs a more mature hand." He explains it exhaustively, in keen detail, and you take it. When your classmate tells you your story is "trite," you want to ask her, "EXCUSE ME? Can you recall a story that dealt with remotely the same thing? Ha?" Hahaha.
  • Which is not to say the workshops are horrible and all-out manic and destructive. But I do not need to be told my story is "competitively written." I need comments on what I want to do. On what I can contribute. I am in grad school for workshops. I want to know where I stand in the big Philippine literary jungle. Sigh. Maybe should recalibrate expectations. Durr.
That's the big realization of late: managing expectations. In the rogue days when you fail, there are books and beautiful movies you chance upon.

Wednesday, August 10

Words.

Years ago, when I knew nothing about line cuts and enjambments (which, come to mention it, is not so different from my poetry-befuddlement today), I only knew there are poems that made me feel like screaming inside, poems like this, which my critical theory-trained peers would perhaps chastise as cliche-riddled, statement-heavy, and juvenile:

Reply to Oscar
Donna L. Batongbacal

But you see, there are days, too
when I walk the inner regions of my mind.

And though I am not as well-inclined
to the commodity of tears as most of my kind,
there are times when my heart unfreezes
itself, thaws its stone-coldness
in favor of a few moments of heat,
when my spirit suffuses with
a softness even I cannot bear to ignore.

Despite the many-stringed distances I keep
there is a chance for me to be reached
with the mere simplicity of things-
a smile, some rain, a few errant notes,
a voice, a bit of ice cream, some fragment
of song, a waning slab of sun, or
a glimpse at a burning star.

Though it’s true I have learned
to close off my doors and fortify my walls,
to discern between potential friend or foe,
and though most frequently I choose not to
take risks entirely, there are those whom
I let in through the cracks, a chosen few
I have set my heart upon, whom to trust,
almost blindly.

And although I have been burned
more times than I care to admit,
there are occasions too, when I am tempted
to thrust my hand in the fire, in the hope
of finding at least One who would most
assuredly be there to walk with me in the rain,
perhaps even to soak ourselves in the storm.

And even while I have sworn to suffer
no more of these idiocies and faults,
I still do crave.


Of course it’s been far too long since
we’ve talked, and you and I have
changed since those times when our troubles were
far simpler though with not much less pain.
Yet, I think, above all, knowing me as far back
as you do, you should have known-

I am not, nor have I ever at any time been,
The bulwark you take me to be:

I too, crumble and fall.

But obviously, how can you not love this poem? It's from a volume of Heights, and there have been many others, including some, if I recall correctly, by then Heights person Mookie Katigbak. I have a friend who loved reading poems out loud and these gems would fill our nights and mornings. Looking at them now, there are phrases here that have made their way to stuff I write seven, eight years later, a testament to their influence on me.

I am returning here because the frenzy of the past few months, fetish for publication, awards, workshops and personality-based what-not's, have made me lose sight of what originally brought me to, well, trying to write: stories, and how someone you don't know can tell yours and you, potentially and if you're fortunate, others'.

Speaking of which, added three more to intense pile of unread books, thanks to Nikko, who's among the now droves of people who are leaving this month for graduate school abroad:


V. interested to get started on another Amis, obviously.

Last night's plan to run was rained out, and instead Alan and I walked from Maginhawa to Buddy's in Timog, which, according to his calculations, is equivalent to four Acad Oval rounds. Proceeded to watch Teeth with chips and white wine. Bloody hilarious movie. Will now read.

Tuesday, August 9

Beginnings.

I'm not sure why there's an itch to start over in the form of this blog while I'm quite attached to the mothership (eight years' worth, in that one, and counting) Perhaps, to snatch a semblance of control when things, as they stand now, are direction-less. Also, was happy to find out that the URL is available (given the unremarkability of my name and person). So:
  1. Just submitted the nonfiction piece for workshop on Friday for Butch's class (he talks about our class in his column this week, and there are things he said that I could've used, but alas, they came a little too late). The whole thing, supposedly an essay, became a full-blown Kule article, with Bourdieu and symbolic violence and value system and power relations and all those things long buried in the attic and now gathering cobwebs.
  2. Will workshop three poems as part of sequence later for Neil's class. I have nothing more to say in this regard: all I know is, I don't understand poetry, I don't think in terms of images, and I am sure to receive a beating later.
  3. Because my three workshop subjects conspired against me (this month, in general, hasn't been kind), non-realist fiction piece might be up for workshop this Friday for Jing's class (if we finish quickly on first two, Bambi's and Dino's). My realist self is scared as shit, needless to say. Have absolutely no fantastic, spec fic bone in my body.
  4. First time to be workshoped in classroom format in a v. long time (absent the mini-workshops with the Silliman and Chingbee groups). Come to think of it: had only one workshop class during undergrad, creative nonfic under Chingbee five years ago. Was 20 then, and harbored delusions of grandeur.
  5. Always, idly, finding myself drifting back to the mountains of Valencia, in the thick of things, the familiar smiles and the ready ears, and poetry in the morning.
  6. My sense of zen is currently braving the harshest storm/s in years.
  7. Tomorrow, will meet with Alan after class to run a few rounds in school. Alaysa will join us after some tibak thing, then will troop to Buddy's for pancit and maybe yogurt. There are standing plans to visit Dambana ng Kagalakan in Morong. Last time I went there, was with Piya, and we celebrated surviving an awful September. August seems to be offering the same kind of difficulties, which may or may not have to do with some planets realigning or portals of hell opening.
  8. The last two films I saw (Vim Yapan's Gayuma and the movie adaptation of Murakami's Norwegian Wood) are, loosely, both about love and the things we do for it. As with all great art (in my own narrow view), their imports on life are clear. I know I am not (yet) capable of great love because I am not ready to surrender as much. It's a tragedy. I noticed, too.
I don't know how to differentiate this space from the one I've dearly loved and kept for a long time. But best be typing.