Friday, June 22, 2007

wherever, whatever

APART FROM the heart, home will always be where the gut is. And purgatory is everywhere, yes. Here's a reprint of my recent opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu (12 June 2007) :

Besides the chicken that crossed the road

Easy goes the green light for envy en route to any American city. It’s all it takes, hands down, to feel a sudden surge of empathy for stray dogs. Go ask any Third World drifter driving himself headlong into the dead-end of undue comparison.

Consider the commercial of a fast-food joint cranking up the condescending tone of a balikbayan matron. Sweating and fanning away the frustration off her face, she hissed at all the signals of the doggone state of our streets: “Walang ganyan sa States!”

Wringing that woman’s neck, however, may yet entail squeezing dry the threadbare fabric of one’s nationalistic streak.
For one preferring “a government run like hell by Filipinos,” our major thoroughfares are metaphors for a future that renders horoscopes way far better reading fare than op-ed columns.

What a relief, therefore, to run into Anne Lamott’s latest book of essays—
Grace (Eventually)—and to be reassured that the geography of what goes bad or wrong is our common ground. Regardless of race, yes.

“Nowhere is better than anywhere else,” writes Lammot.

Angels may fear to tread through the traffic anywhere in our country’s asphalt jungles, but even the world’s most affluent nation is neither a breeze through the boulevard.

Hardly a minute goes in New York at night, swear some expat friends, without emergency sirens blaring by. In Los Angeles, where road rage is rampant down the freeway, an unidentified man stalking the sidewalk has been caught on video cam lugging a baseball bat and swinging it down his victims’ head at random.

And here comes, where I’m helpless at waxing touristy at the camera-worthy pace of suburbia, this swerve of sobering news: A 16-year-old woman out from the mall was whisked off on the way to her car in the parking lot, her dead body found in a wooded area in the neighboring state three days after she was reported missing.
Reading all that, who wouldn’t rather scoot away into the tracks of Paris Hilton or veer off where Ruffa and Yilmaz exchange a flurry of toxic fumes?

Better yet, scratch one’s head at the sidelines while Cebu’s movers and shakers merrily rouse up sparks around and smack at each other as if they were inside bump cars in a children’s arcade.

Doesn’t the smash-up between the Capitol of Cebu and City Hall hit any Bisdak, displaced or not, as if—lucky us—we don’t have to bother anymore about global warming, the war in Iraq, and terrorism? Isn’t that entertaining enough to sideswipe us away from other pressing concerns like the lack of urban planning, the garbage-filled and flood-prone streets, the invasion of squatters in the sidewalks?
Oh, well, thank God for gawk-worthy dollops of distraction. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Where there’s mayhem in the streets to go with the caravan of political circus, sneaking online for nostalgic peeks at the homefront would be a chronic compulsion. As if it would be where I might stumble on the cure for cancer soon.
Of her city, Kerima Polotan notes the impossibility of getting intimate with it without the cocktail of “love and repulsion and sorrow.”

That, for all we know, is what the mayor imbibes in full measure while he looms large enough for both the affection of those who vote for him and the aversion of everyone else.

That, too, might explain why, even if it’s where her pet peeve holds sway, it’s no sweat for the island’s lady governor to swear, hand to her heart: “I love Cebu City!”
Come on, with all that drama worthy of a YouTube spot soon, my birthplace might as well be the center of the universe.

Friday, June 15, 2007

for my childten to sing and dance with

God bless Luther Vandross for this lovely song. Happy Father's day to all the sons, brothers, and husbands who dream of siring a better world someday.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

consciousness like continents

TO RECLAIM SPACE is to reassert one's place, according to poet Mary Oliver, "in the family of things." After a month of taking a detour from my comfort zone into the uncertainty of an alien landscape, what a relief to return where mind and heart limbers up in the light of the familiar: a chance to continue touching base with my place of origin and pivot for return, at least through my regular op-ed corner in Sun.Star Cebu.

Published last June 12, here's a reprint of my first column after a month-long absence in the spell of readjustments en route to retracing the tracks of my byline:

Sheltering under the same sky

It does sound like a broken record, but “to find one’s place under the sun” is here to stay. Indeed, it’s enough of a record-breaking feat to steer clear and weather away the burning temptation of a cliché. Or the cold comfort of familiarity.
True, strangeness becomes me where the pastures are not only greener but also wider. But here in the city of Topeka, the capital of Kansas, there’s no trite notion I find easy to engage in and try to dispel than displacement.

But now that the age of dotcom renders distance just a click away from the computer keyboard, nothing else make me feel at home than harping on variations on a theme.

Connectedness, for instance.

Reckon how reverie veers away like ripples in a pebble-stirred lake, concentric from where consciousness sprawls out between the navel of the Philippine archipelago and the heartland of America.

Where I’m aiming to keep alienation at bay, waves of familiarity are also up my neck with a recent online report just enough to strike a sensitive chord to this true-blooded Cebuano who, despite shrinking in the shadow of toxic fumes from news at the homefront, can stand tall about its guitars and singers.

According to a Yahoo dispatch, more than 1,680 guitarists gather in Kansas to tune up and take part in setting a Guinness world record for the most people playing the same song—Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water—simultaneously.

Never mind the smoke of politics in Cebu hot in the heels of the elections on top of the water-logged news to flush one’s summer thoughts down the drain: overflowing creeks and sewers, flash floods in the streets and mudslides in the mountains.

Nothing new under the sun, right? Then again, just when summer in Kansas rouses a riot of colors and fragrance from its galaxy of gardens, something of a novelty nudges my nose not to smell what the flies revel in Taboan as I sniff stardust out of Mayor Tomas Osmeña’s seemingly spaced-out scheme.
Never mind if the mayor doesn’t have the heart to prop up a school building in Lahug as long as he has the lungs to whoop out a wizardry: To carve out a river right in the middle of the city’s clogged roads.

Come on, the Yellow Brick Road may be a universe away from Cebu, but it smacks of magic for the mayor to conjure “street rivers” where traffic and floating rats render it cool to hitch a ride on a witch’s broom above it all. Quick, go notify the authorities at Guinness!

In the face of formidable odds, any Cebuano worth his pride of Lapu-Lapu’s legend is no stranger to the struggle of holding his ground. As if conquest were a congenital blessing, if not a birthright.
Like water, there’s no stopping back the Bisdak’s knack for survival. Or his free-flowing instinct for finding a way out of dire straits.
And for the throng out to find a foothold to the future in alien shores, uncanny as well how they might feel no farther than the plight of Cebu City’s squatters to keep their heads above water as the tides of progress sweep the metro like a Kansan tornado.

A relocation site is up in the pipeline, assures Mayor Tomas Osmeña, who plans to pave a road from the SRP to Poblacion Pardo, where he will build a “new barangay” of squatters uprooted from various parts of the city. (No, slum dwellers won’t be cast away like garbage under the bridge because they are potential voters, remember?)

Strangeness is a state of mind, indeed. And like the brain-like formation of clouds, the sky stays—wherever we go and raise our stakes—always overhead. That, at least, can never be relocated.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

leavetaking, and the love of friends

"IN THE DEW of little things, the heart finds its morning." And I, born once upon a high noon in August under a lion's sign, roar amen.

We'll meet again--all of you in whom I have taken root--in yet another sunrise soon...

* * *

IT'S BEEN A MONTH since I left the country and settled (temporarily, I hope) with my family in the heartland of America. Ah, the sweet sorrow of departure and the thrill of a new adventure! And, yes, the geyser of goodwill and the grace of friendship that I've been blessed with all along! It had been a whirl of beer binges and videoke, reunions with friends long missed, and poetry dedicated to me like a talisman for tracing my way back home soon (Thank you, dear ole' Temistokles Adlawan). Plus a toast from two kindred spirits whose beautiful minds and hearts will always be cherished. Read on, here's a reprint of two opinion columns from Mayette Q. Tabada and Ana Escalante-Neri:

Xman Redux
by MAYETTE Q. TABADA, Sun.Star Cebu, 13 May 2007

CHEAPSKATE that I am, the first thing I bought when I had something left over from my salary was this mobile phone. Inexpensive and simple, the new phone fit me, down to the longish time it took to unlock and the limited memory of my ancient SIM card.

As far as coexistence anxieties went, this new phone and I settled down in no time, except for a few days ago, when this infernal gadget went crazy.

Fumbling with the keypad, I panicked every time the phone tone indicated an incoming message. Each time, I feared the worst: my younger son finally swallowed his older brother and was regurgitating him out, with the pieces in odd order.

Every time, it was this and that writer asking if Myke was gone, had gone, was really, really gone.

Texting is really ideal only for thumbs that fly over the keypad and eviscerate nimbly the rules of English writing. It is not for technophobes that feel they have to use the shift key every time to begin a sentence with a capital letter; or leave a space after punctuations (two if a period).

Also, texting is just too bloody for explaining to the young, the heartbroken, the dreamers that the mentor they wrote for, imitated, drank with—heck, loved—had, as of 3 PM last Friday, taken off for an 18-hour flight with his two young sons and a pocket full of finger puppets to go home to his beloved Arlaine.

Thanks to Myke, my editor-on-leave, I discovered a facet of the phone I thought I knew: push the buttons too quickly and this unremarkable piece of plastic will rear its spirit and refuse to execute a command.

Toxic, my editor would have said, nodding his bangs sagely while smiling roguishly.

Yeah, everything’s toxic alright, Xman. Some just use the poison to make poetry.

I first worked with Myke U. Obenieta in 2000. Our group of writers and photographers were prowling in the firecracker-making countryside of Babag, Lapu-Lapu to catch children and minors assembling in the illegal trade.

It was my first special report but my heart was not in it. Why punish the victims? For Myke, his interest was not to expose and investigate; he wanted to listen to the stories woven by those small, nimble fingers before an accidental spark sent them flying all over the countryside.

In the exacting world of journalism, Myke and I felt, more often than not, like mutants. In the backyards of Babag, we took to calling each other Xman, or “X-Man,” if according to Myke, as he was more straitlaced about grammar than I.

Over the years, in the newsroom or during coverage, we bumped into each other desultorily. I knew him better though as one of the most graceful editors to light up a classroom or a young writer’s dreams.

Some students stumble into writing because, caught between the devil and professors who believe in “publish or perish,” they have nowhere to go but into the roiling waters of the publishing world.

But the ones that grow into their craft have, hovering over their pens, not just Muses but angst-ministering angels and nurturing mutants. Until he finally made good on his travel plans last Friday, the Xman did not assign writers as go off with them on rambling, irreverent, offbeat, funny explorations of language, the movies, drinking, poetry, parenting, loving and other digressions that inexplicably fed the Craft.

For those unable to believe he has left, let me comfort you with Epictetus.

It’s not only because quoting some long-dead Greek confers the proper gravitas on leave-takings. The fellow is in one of the books left behind in the normal clutter of my editor’s desk.

This, as well as an oil-and-pastel painting of a ballet dancer, the communities of writers woven around his four scrupulously updated blogs, and the unfinished series of despedidas requiring at least half-a-year to complete, are portents that Myke has just stepped out and will, one afternoon, pop up to declare to us, day-shift stiffs: “Hi, beautiful people!”

* * *


by ANA ESCALANTE-NERI, Sun.Star Weekend Magazine, 25 April 2007

IT IS HARD to write about someone who has left, but even harder to write for someone just about to leave when you imagine you could still venture the hope that they would stay. Offer a final argument against their departure. The ache is keener when you see what spaces remain occupied—his mess on his desk, blunt-tipped pencils in a mug, he on that chair where he’s sat in the lifetime of eight years—while knowing that a mere few, few days would empty all that.

There are only five days left, to be exact, before my Weekend editor Mr. Myke Obenieta leaves with his two boys for Kansas to join his wife Arlaine.

I am tempted to send him, in lieu of this column, something incoherent (uh, not that my columns aren’t) with twice the usual character requirement.

Or maybe I could be dramatic and turn in a blank page, tell him that would be enough to explain the great void we would all feel in his absence. Sniff, sniff. Choke, sob.

Or I could do the corny but heartfelt thing and write about his being more than an editor, but an occasional beer buddy, too, for whom I’ve offered to foot the bill only to find out when it was time to pay that I had not enough cash in my wallet—the only time we managed to laugh about not getting paid enough writing.

A mentor, he was, as well, paneling in the two regional writing workshops I attended where he was the easiest of the bunch to forgive despite all his insulting comments on my poems….naw. He did no such thing. If anything, he’s been best at giving encouragement and good advice, literary or otherwise.

Perhaps what I can do is give some of that back, casual good advice, from one traveler to another?

Myke. Stuff your suitcase with the usual chicharon, otap, rosquillos, dried mangoes, pastillas, danggit. Our kababayans in the States are heartsick for those. They won’t mind your charging them quadruple their original price. Use profit from sales to tide you over until you find rich relatives to mooch money from during the first few months of your stay.

On the plane, when your two little men start to become a handful, think tranquilizer. Not for them, silly. For you. There should be at least three hundred other passengers on board anyway to keep an eye on them.

When you get there, don’t stop yourself from constantly calculating exchange rates. That way, you won’t have the heart to spend on anything, especially the little luxuries you never needed anyway when you were here. So when you come back home to Cebu, to us, to me, your favorite columnist, you could feel free to bore us with your stateside tales in an unnatural American accent if only because you’ve saved so much dolyares and could afford to buy us beer. If you spring for more than a couple, we might even pretend to be interested.

The important thing is coming home, at some point. Hopefully before the new Weekend editor recommends to fire me due to an attitude problem. A catty treatment from me. Uh, wait. Sorry to have to break it to you here, but I believe that position has been offered to me. Great news, right? You’re guaranteed a job when you return, and I get the chance to pay you back for all your kindness by offering you a tiny 300-worder space-filler under my editorship.

Meantime, ayo-ayo, Bai. Do enjoy your new adventure and give our regards to our fellow-poet Arlaine.

Wait, wait, a final thing. Don’t bring large bottles of toiletry in your hand-carry.

And your desk. Maybe don’t clear it.

Or clear it.

Or don’t.