Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lea Takes a Spill, Channels Southern Belle

Enough time now has passed that I can write about Lea's, um, tree incident without flinching. It goes like this: we were headed to the car after having dropped R & V off at school one morning last week. As is our custom, we stopped and chatted with various people along the way. We said our verbal "Seeyalaterhaveagoodmorning!" to the last of these fine folks, but Lea continued to wave at them while looking over her shoulder. I said, "Watch out, Lea, watch out..." But it was too late.

She walked into a tree.

Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that it made her fall, and she landed facedown right on the spot where one of the tree's roots began to jut away from the tree trunk. I could tell it was bad because she was completely silent. I thought to myself: oh, shit.

I turned her over and picked her up, choosing to ignore for the moment the blood running down her face and both knees. We live only 2 minutes from the school, and I just wanted to get her home as soon as possible. Now, nothing like this had ever happened to her before, but from experience with other children, I instantly braced for what would surely be a festival of screaming and crying. But that didn't happen. Instead, she transformed into some cross between herself, a newscaster, and Scarlett O'Hara.

"Something has happened! Oh, oh, something has happened!" she said. She was strangely calm.

"Yes, baby, you fell down."

"Oh, I am afraid for my face! Is my face alright? This is very, very terrible."

"It's gonna be fine. We'll go home and I'll fix you right up."

"I don't think I can take this. I don't think I can take this. Oh, it hurts, it hurts...I'm...I'm...I'm...going to die..."

I'm happy to report that she didn't die. She did, though, have some nasty abrasions over her eye and on her temple, and a small but deep gash right on her cheek. And her knees were all ripped up. I tricked her into letting me clean everything up by saying that if we didn't, she'd get a scar just like the one on Mommy's tummy. I lifted my shirt to remind her of my 6-inch monstrosity (don't ask), and she became instantly cooperative.

Since then, I've been thinking about the things she said right after she fell down. The way she seemed at first to be a third-party narrator, how she focused on her face, how she embraced melodrama with her I'm going to die declarations, and how she let me swab all the cuts with antiseptic without making a peep other than an occasional sharp intake of breath. It was so unlike her sisters, who would have whipped themselves into a frenzy, inadvertently pummeled me with flying fists and feet, and sworn a horrible revenge on the tree.

Also since then, I've been reminding her to watch where she's going. Which is pretty good advice for just about any situation, really, if you think about it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Quiz

I received an e-mail from the Managing Editor at Bamboo Ridge asking if it would be okay to publish "Bernie Aragon, Jr. Looks For Love" in their October issue. Do you think I screamed...

a) No! No way! Do I look crazy?

b) Bamboo Ridge? What's Bamboo Ridge?

c) Yes! Yes! For the love of God and his host of holy angels, yes!

The answer is c. I then offered to wash the cars and vacuum the homes of the entire editorial team. Every day. For ten years.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


For the short story writers out there:

Short Story Craft (a blog)

Storyglossia: The Art of Short Stories (a blog)

Storyglossia: Because Stories Matter (a journal)


The 39 Steps: A Primer on Story Writing from The Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi.

I find #12 particularly helpful: We can't care about sand mutants; if you do, or think you do, kill yourself.

Also #9: Grace Slick.

But it's not all hilarity and madcap hijinx. Here's #14: For dramatic purposes you're probably well-served sticking close to an objective narrative (1st person unvoiced, or 3rd person objective—in either case, the camera view). This forces you to write scenes in which characters do and say things to/with/for each other; these things will then construct the story for you. This expedient blocks the "telling" problem.

Of course, don't spend so much time exploring these links that you forget to, um, write. Woops.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Skin We're In

When my parents returned home from their vacation to the Philippines earlier this year, they predictably brought back enough loot to keep my daughters entertained for a good long while. Included with the dolls, the pearl necklaces, and the cute little crafty things was a cache of children's books written either entirely in English or in Tagalog with a side-by-side English translation. There are folktales, history, and contemporary stories. We're still working our way through them, and the other day the girls asked me to read Ang Pambihirang Buhok ni Raquel or Raquel's Fantastic Hair to them.

So this is a story about two female cousins, one from the barrio (Anna) and one from the city (Raquel). Anna idolizes her cousin and seeks to emulate everything from her fluent English to her smile, the way she dresses, etc. etc. This was okay, I suppose, but then I found myself having to do some quick read-aloud editing when I came to this line: Raquel doesn't know that I envy her. For she is truly pretty, with flawless fair skin. Raquel, for her part, thinks Anna is the lucky one.

Soon, it becomes clear that Raquel is quite ill. Anna and her parents go to visit her in the city often, where Anna is finally told that her cousin has leukemia. And this is her reaction (which I also edited as I read): I suddenly remembered what Raquel had been telling me about my being luckier...It dawned on me. Yes, I may not be rich, I may not be as beautiful, and I have a dark skin. But I am healthy.

So lemme see here...the message is that there are worse things than having dark skin or being poor: you could have cancer.

What the fuck? And what's "a dark skin" anyways? By the way, this is some sort of award-winning book, my friends. A 1998 PBBY-Salanga Writer's Prize, Honorable Mention, whatever that is.

Do we really do this? Do we begin telling our children that their dark skin is undesirable, is somehow lesser-than, in their picture books? And do we keep delivering the message until, as Sunny reports in this post our girls grow up to become one of the stunning number of Filipinas who feel the need to use a skin-whitening product? I'm looking forward to learning more about Joanne's work on this subject. Here's a little bit of what she has to say.

I've written before about the young Filipina that helped me take care of the kids for a few years when they were younger. The only point of friction I had with her in all the time she was with us came after I sat with Vida—she must have been just about four years old or so—looking through a book that contained pictures of children from all over the world. When we came to a page with a photograph of a young girl from India, Vida said, "I'm so lucky."

"Why is that?"

"Because I have such light skin and light hair."

"Why is that lucky?"

"Well, it means I'm beautiful."

"Who told you that? Who told you that?!"

The anwer to my question, of course, was that her Filipina babysitter had told her that. Had told her that she was lucky, that she was beautiful. I experienced so many feelings all at once: I was angry, sad, shocked, even slightly panicked. How long had she been filling my girls' heads with this notion? Why hadn't I realized? And what did I have to do to de-program them? Of course I went completely spastic on our babysitter, and I probably overdid the reverse brainwashing on Risa and Vida, so much so that in both cases it's likely that the three of them emerged from the whole debacle believing that I was slightly unhinged.

Which is pretty funny considering the fact that I wasn't the one espousing wacky ideas...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Tears, TV, and Time To Read

Is it normal to cry when watching four earnest fifth graders play the violin during a PTA meeting? And is it normal to cry when they are joined by three girls on the flute, four others on clarinet, and two on trumpet? No? How about when a group of thirty sings "America the Beautiful," followed by possibly the world's cutest song about the fifty states ("shout 'em, scout 'em, tell all about 'em!"), and then—the one that almost had me weeping on the floor begging for mercy—"Lean on Me," complete with awkward back-n-forth swaying and handclapping?

Seriously, it was out of control.

And then I came home and had to watch Elliot Yamin voted off. Bah! And once again—Bah! Bullshiz, I tell you.

I found some solace in the Tivo'ed episode of Lost, where Naveen Andrews finally got some airtime in which to reveal—once again—that even though his character inexplicably fell in love with that vapid girl who was eventually done in by the murderess (and now murdered) Ana Lucia, he is still the most level-headed, clear-thinking, and valuable go-to guy on the island.

So, yes, I was sucked into the blackhole of Wednesday night television, but I still found some time to read before drifting off. I do this, I think, not only because I love to read but because watching television pushes my guilty button. Anyways, I'm currently enjoying Francine Prose's A Changed Man (I keep picturing Edward Norton as the main character, probably because of his turn as the skinhead in American X) and The Time of the Doves by Merce Rodoreda.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

It's Sad (So Sad), So Sad, It's a Sad, Sad Situation...

...and it's getting more and more absurd.

Okay, not really, but it's hard to age gracefully when everyone is so damn young. Witness:

This weekend we hoofed it over to the valley for my niece's (on the SU's side) high school graduation party. One might think that the difficult part of this situation was being surrounded by 18-year-old girls in their party frocks. It was decidedly not. And this is because I do not wax nostalgic for the days when I didn't realize I was wearing too much make-up, my hair was hilariously fussy, and I was clearly—oh, so clearly—not yet comfortable in my own skin.

No, friends, the difficult part was engaging in a bit of small-talk conversation with my other niece's twenty-something boyfriend. The two of us, you see, were working the service-side of the buffet table because the two of us, you see, know how to make ourselves valuable at a party in which immediate family should not have to do such things. Good skill.

Anyways, some enterprising soul had created a CD of songs loosely based around the theme of...let's see...friendship and bright futures. And so it came to pass that the opening bars of Journey's seminal "Don't Stop Believing" suddenly blasted from the sound system.

"Great song," offered the twentysomething niece's twentysomething boyfriend.

"Oh, yeah. I love this song," I said. I plopped a Mediterranean chicken kebab on a teenage girl's plate. She snapped her gum. "I saw this concert."

"You did? Really? Man, I wanted to go."

"Are you serious? You must have been like 6 years old or something."

"No, they had a concert in LA last month!" announced the young buck.

"Dude," I said. I plopped another kebab down on some girl's plate. She said oh, no thanks and then I un-plopped it. "I saw the tour when the album actually came out.


What's that sound? It's the sound of me. Sighing.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Muse to Me: Meet Me @ Speedee. And Confessions.

I like getting my oil changed.

I mean, I like having the oil in my car changed.

For me, it's not unlike a visit to the spa. Sure, Speedee Oil Change is located right on El Camino. Sure it's kinda smelly and vaguely gross. And of course the steady flow of traffic does not provide much in the way of a breathtaking vista. But the fine folks at Speedee Oil Change give it their best shot. They've placed a round, stone-encrusted table and matching benches on the little concrete "patio," for one thing. You might, if you wished, play a rollicking game of dominoes with a pal while seated at such a table. Such a table would be fine for this. Never mind that one doesn't usually take a pal with them when having their oil changed; never mind that, silly!

Another thing Speedee has done is set up a pair of those hammock-y type chairs with the built-in cupholders that one brings with them when camping or, perhaps, tailgating. Of course, I could be wrong about this since the only way I could be found engaging in either of these activities would be if I were tied up and thrown in the trunk of a car that happened to be on the way to the campsite or tailgate spot. And by "engaging in" I mean "sitting around wondering where it all went wrong." Anyways, I love to sit in the hammock-y chairs. Never mind that I inhale tons of car exhaust; it's fun!

You may have surmised by now that I lied.

I don't like having the oil in my car changed.


But the other day, while sitting in one of those awful camping chairs with the sun shining on my face, the muse planted a big wet kiss on my cheek. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. And when I was done, it felt like I'd taken a most refreshing nap.


5 Pop Culture Confessions:

1) I don't care, I still like David Blaine. I don't care.

2) I want Elliot Yamin to win.

3) I don't understand why Ana Lucia (may she rest in peace) wore that tank top for her entire run on the show. Hi—open a suitcase and pick another top because I'm done being impressed by your body. Okay...I just addressed an entire sentence to a character on a television show. A dead character, even.

4) I like that that little ditty Jon Bon Jovi (wow, that's fun to type) sings with that country woman. Shut up.

5) Team Lachey. Totally.

Don't you dare leave me out here alone. You, too, must confess. If you want, you can confess that when you read the word "ditty" in confession #4, you thought of John Cougar Mellancamp and his boyish, tousled hair. You can even go so far as to confess that you sang the whole line ...Little ditty 'bout Jack and Diane, two American kids growing up in the heartland... and that when you sang "heartland," you used a really low voice. Just a suggestion

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Love Me, Love Me...

...say that you love me. With Eau de Play-Doh for Mother's Day:

Hmmmm. I thought I was joking when I started this post, but I find the idea of this cologne (I mean, it's no Nenuco, but really, what is?) strangely appealing...

Okay, no. Never mind.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Belated Links

Some extremely belated linkage will soon appear on my sidebar:

The Last Noel, property of one Mr. Noel Alumit.

Raindancer's Map of Memories, property of Rochita C. Ruiz.

Notes From the Peanut Gallery, property of Dean Alfar. I have long clicked over to Dean's blog via Ian's, and one must give linkage where linkage is due.

And, finally, check out the fancy shenanigants over at Tony Robles' new home on the Web! Even as I type, I am manipulating my way into taking charge of next year's Author's Day at R & V's school just so I can brink Lakas to the Peninsula. There is much drama when it comes to this type of thing, but I am prepared to elbow, talk loud, pull volunteer rank, and otherwise obnoxious-ize myself into the job. And when I have defeated the last of my foes, I will stand atop a table in the lunchroom, carefully choose my Achilles pose...

...and scream, "Is there no one else?" And then everyone will roll their eyes and mutter things like, "God, I can't stand her," and "She needs to go away. Like right now."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

D.C. Part 3 o' 3 / Opening The Archives

The spousal unit and I were married in San Francisco and then moved immediately to Washington, D.C., where we procured the first homely little rowhouse we could find in Georgetown. This was about 300 years ago, but lo and behold the rowhouse still stands. We snapped a photo while we tooled around the old neighborhood on Saturday morning:

The most alarming thing about this photo—to me—is that there is a parking spot available right in front. Because let me tell you, parking was so atrocious that the SU racked up thousands of dollars in parking tickets while we lived there. After a leisurely breakfast on Wisconsin Ave. (I had the most ingenious thing: cheddar and bacon potato skins topped with scrambled eggs. It's a good thing I didn't drop dead before the reading), we did a little shopping (hi Kuya!). This Spanish retailer had cute stuff at unshocking prices, so I indulged a bit. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to change, and then it was off to the Library for the reading.

I guess it's not surprising that the city looks like it's on lockdown compared to when we lived there. Now they have these big barricades that can spring up right off the street at various (I suppose) strategic spots. They say "STOP," which is kinda, you know, redundant; there are police stationed everywhere taking pictures of the various protests; and public parking lots in the city proper appear to be non-existent. Still it manages to be stunning.

The opening of the archives took place in the Asian Reading Room, and though this shot is out of sequence, it's the best way to get a feel for the room:

There are several of these study areas:

We were treated to an overview of the Philippine collection, which features...um...okay, I was so nervous at this point that I remember only one thing. It was the most rare and valuable of the lot: a 16th century catechism written in both Tagalog and Spanish, and it is the only one in existence. One more thing I recall is that 60% of the items acquired by the Library are not in English. And I recall not knowing how I felt about that, really.

After a few more really wonderful short talks (again, too busy working myself into an unnecessary psychological frenzy to take notes) about the various goings-on of the Asian Division, it was time to open the Carlos Bulosan Archives:

All but one of the previous day's scholars helped do the honors, as did Remé Grefalda's formidable mother, Remedios G. Cabacungan (that's her in the center), who singlehandedly raised a large portion of the funds required to get this whole project going. Second from the left is a nephew of Carlos Bulosan whose name, lame-o that I am, I apologize for not remembering.

Some other things happened, but I excused myself for fifteen minutes or so to gather my wits. Musician, composer, and playwright Rod Garcia, along with his daughter Jitter (for real!), whose singing voice is sweet as can be, provided some lovely music, and then it was my turn. I (think) I gave a smooth reading; I'm always pleased if I end things without having tripped up on myself or gone too fast. The crowd was surprisingly diverse, and I like to be able to look up and see people actually listening. I turned often to Susan Evangelista, who was sitting towards the back, but who remained perched literally on the edge of her seat, sending out such good energy.

As I said when I first stepped up to the podium, I was deeply honored to read on such a day. Thank you to Remé for believing me up to the task. Here we are, Wonder Woman and me, just having enjoyed the superb spread provided by the Philippine Embassy:

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

D. C. Part 2 / The Symposium

What with certain people creating a political climate in which it's perfectly okay to dehumanize, criminalize and otherwise screw another group of people (I'm so pissed, by the way—really effing pissed), it was more than fitting to spend a day taking an in-depth look at Carlos Bulosan's work, not only as a writer but as one who fought for the rights of immigrants in this country. Ahem.

So here's a photo of the set-up for the The Carlos Bulosan Symposium:

How excellent are those red walls? Very excellent.

My scattershoot of all things symposia:

Remé Grefalda, having willed this entire event into being, is the Pinay answer to Wonder Woman (minus the crown, hot pants, and bullet-repelling bracelets). She is tireless, hilarious, big-hearted.

• I am not being facetious when I constantly reiterate my shortcomings as a reader, particularly when it comes to academic work. It won’t surprise you to learn, then, that try as I might, I have never been able to comprehend—except in the vaguest (rhymes with "lamest"!) ways—anything written by Dr. E. San Juan, Jr. It was quite different, though, to hear him in person and get a real sense of his warmth and the passion he has for his subject.

• Dr. Richard Baldoz is a straight-up rock star, if for no other reason than he has coined the phrase “fictions of white injury." He read some choice lines from a few of the hundreds of national newspaper stories from the 30s describing the filth and moral degeneracy of Filipinos. I especially found amusing the description of Pinoys "primitively" seducing young blonde women. What does that mean, do you think—"primitively"?!

• Dr. Susan Evangelista describing Bulosan's poetry as that of a "sentimental Marxist." (So excited to meet Susan, who lives in Palawan, and with whom I've been in an online writers group for years now!)

• Young Dr. (well, soon, very soon a Dr.) Jeff Cabusao talking about ways a new generation can negotiate their relationship with Bulosan. He talked about how his own journey past simple identity politics brought him to an understanding of Bulosan's continued relevancy.

• Halfway through the day I became a little dizzy from the avalanche of neo-, trans- and post- words (if someone could make me a set of flashcards, I promise to love you forever and ever). Following a lunch with all the panelists (hosted by the Library's very kind and generous Dr. Hwa Wei Lee, Chair of the Asian Division), though, I was ready for more.

• Dr. Tim Libretti discussing Bulosan's use of a guileless narrator and the journey taken from ideological innocence to experience.

• Could not tear my eyes away from the 15 minutes of video footage from the Ma-Yi Theater's OBIE award-winning production of The Romance of Magno Rubio. Breathtaking.

• My desperate attempts to understand Dr. Jorshinelle Taleon-Sonza's paper! She was so intent on fitting her entire presentation into her allotment of 20 minutes, that she read at breakneck speed. I did get that she believes Bulosan had a complete understanding of the effects of globalization (on the worker) before the word "globalization" even existed. I think.

• Cindy Domingo wearing her labor activism with such pride and grace.

• Dr. Lane Hirabayashi and independent scholar Marilyn Alquizola requesting that all recording devices and videotaping be shut off prior to their presentation. Drama! I was loving it. They showed us parts of Bulosan's declassified FBI file which was filled, of course, with all sorts of lies and evil.

Here are the scholars, along with Remé, Dr. Lee, Frank Celada, and panel moderator Carlene Bonnivier: