Saturday, February 21, 2009

Moving Day

Sasha keeps a blog at:
(Account mostly for Happy Mondays posting.)

(Which looks prettier, and that's the main blog.)

Oh my, I think I'm growing up. Bye, blog.

Revisions, Revisists

So. I’m not graduating. At least, not this March. And it’s that proverbial big load jumping off my too-bony shoulders.

I feel much better.

I’m not even dwelling on the fact that my father may pound at his chest in grief, or that I may ask my brother to scoot over and make room for me in the Out of School couch. There is hope.

And that amazes me. As much as my mother’s never-ending mantra to “Face up to it” (or the cocktail-induced variation, “Shit’s hitting the fan. You can duck, but you gotta stay and clean it all up”) actually rings true, if you just muster up enough courage to roll out of bed, to stop trying to convince other people that it’s okay, to stop lying to everyone–yeah, you never lied to yourself, because what would be the point?

There I was already imagining a future that involved me standing in my red suede boots along Quezon Ave. (But, really, after reading Confessions of a London Call-Girl, I realized that it’s high-class escortage for me. So, people and your rich widower daddies, line up.)

Why hide? Why didn’t I ever ‘fess up one drunken night and blurted, “I am such a faiiiluuure!”? I almost did, though, many times, and usually in the company of one charming grouch. But, you know how this is. Here comes Sasha, the Golden Girl, the fate of humanity.

(I remember in fifth grade, how I stayed in the classroom while my classmates cheered on the section’s contestant for the Chess tournament being held in the quad (yes, Chess under the basketball hoop). Eric, the town barber’s son, forever called to what was elementary school’s equivalent of the Dean of Academic Affairs, a 60 grade average, played a wicked chess game. I recognized that at 9 years old. And I thought then, If I’m so smart, why can’t I play chess? And I think now, It’s the detention boys playing chess in the quad you have to watch out for; the girl cocooned in the classroom with her paperback will prove anticlimactic.)

Here I am, about to blurt out that I am a bad investment. It’s been a rough year, a rougher couple of months. And I’m sure I only made my life harder because I didn’t want to go running to people, admitting that I’m not the horse to put your chips on, or however that saying goes. It’s the big D-word all over again, and there were times I wanted to throw my hands up and just end it all one way or another, but well, that’s a too-familiar story for my friends, for the people I love the most. Strangely, I ended up feeling like a copycat, never mind that I’m in as much a psychological mess as anyone out there who spends most days melting on the bed, unable to find a reason to get up. Oh, woe is me. I’m never the vindictive, slash-my-wrists-while-cackling bitch when the happy hormones submit their resignation letters; I’m the real sad dude, the one you talk about in hushed voices because her lack of obvious drama demands that you pass it off as an effect of the emo generation, the long, sad epics she likes to read. Coagulating in bed and creating constellations out of the cracks in the ceiling doesn’t make for good entertainment, or good gossip fodder.

But, well, life goes on, like all the Hallmark cards say. I’m still alive, partly because at the back of my head, I’d eventually want to get out of Sasha’s Bed and out into La-La Land, mostly there are too many people I love, and you don’t go drinking White Flower in shot glasses when you’ve got people to love, when there’re people who love you. Or at least people who’ll dig through six feet of earth just to wring your neck.

That said, I need to go. There are naked women to try drawing, and (if the writerly spurt this morning is any indication) fictions to weave.

‘Til next time.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wait for the robot


Monday, November 03, 2008

A few things you should know

Last Night.
How To Get Mistaken For a Hooker Around Taft Avenue Station Of The MRT.
Armed with an itsy-bitsy purse, and a backpack stuffed with hair products, eight pairs of new frilly panties, a laptop, a book, two dresses, and a partridge in a pear tree, I headed over to the outer lobby of the Kabayan Hotel, just a couple of skips away from MetroPoint, and Taft Ave. Station. I gave a winning smile to the security guards, and motioned to the ashtray. They smiled back, albeit warily. I grabbed a cigarette I deprived myself of for about 48 hours, give or take a couple of nervous breakdowns, and puffed away, imagining the bonemeal most probably coursing through my bloodstream, my shoulders slowly pulverized by the disgustingly heavy pack on my back (cuz you know, it’s a backpack!).

Halfway through the stick, a greasy old man walks up to me and asks for a light. He had big eyes, and one was more yellow than the other. I noticed he took an obligatory puff on his cigarette to light it, but then never put it to his lips again.

I inched away, pretended to be entranced by the landscaping.

And then he, shyly, in a way that may have been sweet if it wasn’t so creepy, asked me if I’d like to go up with him to his room. “It’s my first time here,” he said, as though that would make me actually consider the proposition.

I blinked. There was no panic. Merely utter confusion as to why anyone would confuse a girl with tons of baggage, literally, on her back and hanging off the crook of one elbow, to be a working girl. Cumbersome, much? Like, Excuse me, honey, can I charge my laptop while we get it on? Everything was starting to look funny, and hazy. The world was swelling, the way it did when I had too many margaritas, and puffed on too many Lethal Mentoses.

I shook my head, snorted out the hair that snuck into one nostril. I considered saying, “Boss, I haven’t had my balls removed yet.” Or, “Would you like to see the stillborn fetus in my purse?” Or, “Oh, I hadn’t had any action since the day before I left prison for a parole from multiple homicide.” Or even, “Oh golly wow, the doctor said it’d be difficult with a tumor hanging out from inside me.”

I blinked, again. Inched closer to the security guards. Considered laughing. Prepared myself to scream Fire, because Morgan Freeman told Brad Pitt in Seven that in rape prevention seminars, women are taught that no one responds to cries for help.

I considered laughing.

In the end, I said, as politely as I could, “No, thank you. I’m good.”

And the man with one eye more yellow than the other gave me this littlest smile that told me he knew what my answer would be even before he phrased the question in his head.

(This is what’ll get me in trouble one of these days: assigning humanity to people who mistake you for a hooker.)


The Day Before.
How To Let It All Go: An Exercise on Vanity
I felt—there was no other word for it—younger. I was itching to walk into the middle of the room, giggle, stun the crowd with my irrepressible youth, then leave, making them long for more. I was for whom The Cure’s Love Song was made. A sexed-up Shirley Temple. Like I looked like I just tumbled out of bed with some early San Franciscan swashbuckler who liked to wear tight pants. Like I woke up every morning to a kiss on the spot where my neck meets my shoulders. Like I could wear PVC pantsuits--not that I'd want to, I just could, you know?

“You look like that girl walking in the desert with James Bond,” said the girl who shampooed my hair. It was the first civil thing she’d said to me. Our relationship, up to that point, consisted of her pressing her hand on my forehead to keep me still, and her grunting when I got her wet when I sneezed just as she had her face close to my wet hair. I had committed the inside of her left upper arm to memory; she had a small brown mole about three inches up her elbow. It was a relationship that wanted of her smiles. I would never know her name.

I leaned back on the leather seat, squinted. The lights were too white; I could see every pore that had been compelled to bare itself to the world. My face looked like it needed a sandblaster. Oh, but my hair, my hair.

“Oh, nice,” said my mother, walking towards me, holding my copy of Rick Moody’s collection of short stories (which I got for 15 bucks at BookSale, HAH, KAEL, HAH!). She beamed at me. She looked at the shampoo girl, then she hastily looked away. She tried to catch the attention of the hairdresser, Miss Jocelyn, but the other woman was too busy parting her hair according to the starkness of her highlights.

“I told you to keep your hair,” she told me. Her head was cocked, the tips of her straight hair, threaded with gray, touching her shoulders.

I lip-pointed to the counter, watching myself, however blurrily, as I did so. I imagined myself in black and white, grains of sand sprinkled on my moist cheeks. Hello, good-looking, where have you been all my life?

My mother picked up the Ziploc bag from the counter, held it in front of her. She shook the bag. “There’s so much hair.”

I shook my head, my curls grazing my neck. “I know.”

I avoided looking at that bag. I’d already seen too much of it. Miss Jocelyn made Shampoo Girl hold my hair while she cut it. It was quite unceremonious. I still feel a tiny spurt of outrage whenever I think of this indifference. Do you know how long that’s been part of my life? I wanted to ask her. I held the Ziploc bag. She filled it in three goes: one clump of hair, another, then another. I stared at it for the longest time. And then I tossed it on the counter. I amazed myself at this roaring vacuum, of the sheer nothingness in my mind, not too much violent reaction to what was going on, not even a whimper. I had discovered Stoicism. There was no Undo button. Someone should be documenting this.

My mother was stuffing my plastic bag of hair into her bag. I thought of that scene in a short story I’d written, about how “Leah cut her hair, put it in a box, and gave the box to [her grandfather].” I was quoting myself in my head. I was on top of my tiny little fishbowl of a world.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

She patted her bag. “I have a better use for it.”


“I’ll turn it into a wig. Or just attach it to my hair.”

“You’re going to wear your daughter’s hair.”

She went on as if I hadn’t spoken. “I’ll gather it into a ponytail, and brush it every night.” She widened her eyes a fraction, and her voice came out breathy: “It’ll be like you never left.”

I laughed, then turned back to the mirror and run my fingers over my newly exposed nape. I saw the hairdresser was gawking at us. I tried to ease her with a smile.

I reached for my cellphone. No messages. I had texted P. about three times, telling him how earth-shatteringly short it would be. The last time I told him I wanted to get a haircut, like, seriously, he wailed Nooooo, and said, “If you do, I’ll bring it to bed with me every night, and whisper, It’s okay, it’s okay, no one's going to hurt you anymore.” That was a couple of months ago.

No messages. My swashbuckler was in denial.

“You look really nice,” said my mother. (I try not to recall when she asked me last night, “You want to get a nose job?” because my schnoz would prove detrimental to her plan to have me moonlight as model.) “Really nice.”

When we got home, I bullied all the boys into rating my new hairstyle. Joshua laughed, then ignored me the rest of the night. John looked like he’d rather be trapped in a cage with seven bloodthirsty gamecocks. The Father beamed and said, “You look happy.”

P. and I have messaged each other about Joyce Carol Oates, Ian McEwan, needing a bath, needing to sleep, travelling, Mucha Lucha. There is an elephant in the room. I have been painting it neon pink. Hello, good-looking, look where I’ve been all my life.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Proceed to dazzlement, dude

Here are a few things I don’t understand. Some things, I know I could easily comprehend if I practiced some Google-fu, other things I’d rather not understand because I tend to have a naïve, misguided view of the world (snort) and I’d like to keep it that way, and other things I guess I admit to not understanding (grammar check, Nazis), because otherwise (I hate it when people say eitherwise), I’d be this pompous twit who’d rather understand everything in the world, than stop asking questions in fear she’d look stupid, and, gasp, normal.

1 – How those brown ribbons in cassette tapes record sound. And, for that matter, vinyl records. Mehn, grooves, literally, mehn. I mean, I understand it technically, I know how it works – but, well, I’m awed that it’s even possible. (I still think this way about instant messaging through the Intarwebz. See, how do people get to talk to each other by the moment, and they live so far away from each other, oceans have to be traversed, even. How do we talk in real time, when technically, people may exist in different, assigned time zones? So, essentially, I don’t understand technology.)

2 – What really happens to caterpillars inside cocoons? All the graphs and charts I’ve seen show a caterpillar on a twig, a pupa dangling from a twig, and a butterfly about to leap from a twig, one connected to the other by big arrows. But what happens inside cocoons? Again, I know what metamorphosis is. But, you know, is metamorphosis gooey?

3 – Why men get erections in the morning. What, are you aroused at the thought of beginning a brand new day? Stimulated at all the unknown opportunities and possibilities laid out before you? Titillated at the mere thought of, oh god, another fucking day, time to kick some ass? (Pancho says Yes.)

4 – How Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) created a whole cat-suit out of one leather jacket, that’s most probably brittle due to disuse, since I don’t see Selena ________ leap into it every once in a while to paint the town red.

5 – On the subject of movies, and natural disasters: If Jack and Rose hadn’t been necking on deck, would the Titanic not have crashed into an unsuspecting iceberg? Is PDA really bad after all?

6 – Why do we feel in dreams? Sometimes so intensely, that for a fraction of the day, after I wake up, I’m still incredibly pissed at someone for failing to reclaim the Golden Maggot attached to a red plastic hollow ball inside a McDonald’s playpen? Like, dude, the fate of humanity was in your goddamned hands, and you had the temerity to insist on eating that last Egg McMuffin? My McMuffin, at that?

7 – Why eating young, brown mango leaves at the tip of a twig of some old mango tree remind me of childhood. And Bagoong Balayan, rarr.

8 – Why anyone has an appendix. It’s like everybody’s been handed this useless lump of meat that’s pretty much a ticking time bomb if you, like me, have no patience spitting out itsy-bitsy tomato seeds.

9 – Why sunsets and dawns happen so quickly, compared to the rest of the day, when they’re arguably the most awe-inspiring, even the most beautiful. (I learned a new word a couple of days ago – or rather, found hidden, sparkly depths in the word – liminal, which has this red zigzag below it, because it’s not very English, but Latin-y. Liminal. At the threshold, in-between. Sunrises and twilights. Transitory times. Even places: airports, train stations. Even planes and trains. That moment when you’re not quite awake, but you’re not still asleep either. People between one decision and another. Or an issue. Or in a phase. Straddling a state line, the way Jamie Sullivan and Landon Carter did dun sa movie version ng A Walk to Remember. And so, I guess, this brings us to another thing I don’t understand: Objectively, it all seems so strange, supernatural, compelling, poignant. But when you are liminal… well, to quote Mackayla Lane: “Liminal sucks.”)

10 – That way back then, the world wasn’t really low-res, or black and white, or sepia, or even grainy. When I was a kid, looking at two-year-old me in my parents’ wedding album, I’d wondered at how I hadn’t been as colorful as I was then. Until now, I still sometimes think that the world slowly grew color, hues leeching into the smallest things first, a spectrum growing out of the first blot, then the first stain. That everything simply became clearer out of some unexplainable natural phenomenon. That certain things ceased being a soft kind of brown. That the universe, out of some unknown compulsion, over time, magnified, and then burst, highlighting the details, filling in the white dots that speckled its faces.

Addendum (I don’t necessarily not understand this, it just came to me, really): When I was twelve, back in Cavite, I had a chat with the man who sold taho, the one who’d been doing that for as long as I could remember. He said he put his kids through school with taho. Naturally, I asked him how long he’d been doing it. He said it had been sixteen years. And I remember being so struck by that: Sixteen years, four more years than my entire existence. It shook me at how that man was doing things, living his life, long before I was born, long before I had the possibility of being born. That he -- a lot of people – had lives before I came out squalling from my mother’s anaesthetized womb (TMI, I know.) That the world didn’t begin with me, that everything before me wasn’t like the prefaces to books that anyone could skip reading. Ah, the conceit of the youth. Haha. This is what amuses me when it’s story-sharing time with P. I was probably still swimming in primordial soup around the time he had this massive crush on Virginia from the bakery. Things like that, you know, things I don’t really think about much, but well, when I do, well, it boggles the mind, haha. It is so cool.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Big enough for ten plus me

First Comes Love

When my father still had a job he would bring home key chains
left by diners in the restaurant where he would stand around
in his suit and tie and when he got home he’d give my mother
who’d be reading a book in bed a kiss and he would then hand
the key chain to me and I would all too eagerly toss away the key
to some door I would never think about at five and slip
the key ring over my thumb where the fit is most snug
and the next day my father having left for work my mother
having left her book on a table I would tap the windows
of neighbors and playmates then all of us would run to the empty
lot where we would build ourselves houses from discarded plywood
hang plastic bags for curtains and I would be making mud
cakes inside found bottle caps and I would smile at the grimy
boy who’d volunteered to be my husband and show him two
key rings free of dangling jagged shapes grooved free
of plastic icons and brand names and he would put the ring
on his ring finger and I would tell him to put the ring on my ring finger
the way it is in the movies that scene right before a man and a woman
kiss right before my mother slips her hand over my eyes right
before my father sends me out of the room saying Good night
as if he knew some secret he could never share no matter
how many consolations he brought home no matter how many times
my mother tilted her head up to his that she can accept his kiss.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Closer to where I started

Bad Behavior, by Mary Gaitskill

One slow October Sunday, I run my fingers over the books
on the shelves above my table, like a pianist poised over his keys,
instead, a leap of every hue imaginable, and, of course, a chime:
Roland, yet another discourse on love, is the deep, mellow rumble of moss
green, Haruki’s twisting in hallways the tinny zigzag of all the neons
laced with cream, and another ping. The crooning of Gabriel a slide
keening over the creases of supposed memory, and that one bed you
have not visited, the rose you did not bother to snap off a bush, and yes,

perhaps, a sigh. And I pluck a book I bought months ago
from a secondhand bookstore, where I knelt in front of boxes packed
with volumes long ago pushed to the backs of shelves, giving way
to Octavio, Kazuo, or even Danielle, Dr. Spock and Dr. Seuss – hiding,
huddled, their spines curving, the gold on their cloths steadily losing
their glimmer, later on lost in the moving from one house to another
from whose pastel walls still hung the faint scent of paint. And in my hand,
this book falls open, and I read the pages dotted with yellow,

gray veins, the deaths of silverfish scuttling between tales, and all
the words turn fluid before my eyes, all of us aware of the drawn out
whirs of time, while all the other colors caged in fake mahogany
beams clatter what remains of their gold leaf against each other,
thudding in their places, sending out purrs and whines, and once,
even the beginnings of an aria. I come upon the expanse between 144
and 145, and see there, lying within the speckled tale of a beige-clothed
secretary hell-bent on seducing her lawyer boss, there, here,

a lock of hair, just a pinch of brown curl, fine, translucent if held
up against the afternoon light. And I imagine a child, his steps weightless
one moment, then heavy the next: dimpled feet padding none too gently
on the carpets, the knees raised gingerly, then stepping, again and again,
until he stumbles – discovering the first bars of a giggle – into
the outstretched arms of a mother who has put down the book
she has been reading this one rare, selfish afternoon. Oh, my sweet,
I hear this mother, and see her fingers twirl against the crown

of curls on his head, a few locks tangling with his eyelashes, and now
her mind hops and skips across the room, sliding into drawers,
into covered boxes, searching for the smallest pair of scissors, and one,
one simple snip would do, before the day is over,
before Gaitskill completes her tale, before a girl on her knees eases it
from the dust of a bookstore, a girl who could be doing other things,
instead of imagining herself lovelorn, clasping a brittle book in front of a shelf,
humming an old song, holding up a then-child’s lock of hair against the light.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Fight the fire that's in your hand

A few months ago, when it seemed like everyone around me was getting their congratulatory Palanca letters, I went back to my dark corner and banged away at my laptop, trying to shoo away the hurt and, yes, the outrage of missing out on all the excitement. (Call me childish, fuck you, haha.) Beside the sincere happiness for friends, and yes, pride (in Marie's case, oh god, you make me want to cry, I love you, I am unexplainably proud of you, sweetie!), there was resignation, yes, that I should yet again be content with living vicariously, and yes, damn it, the confirmation of the goddamned fact that the world doesn't owe me anything, none at all. And so I banged away, banged away at the laptop, came up with a story, then another, coming up for air to drink with friends, to get some hugs and awkwardly given pep talks.

But what nagged me, damn it, what was stuck in my goddamned craw was my mother. I wanted to give her something tangible, damn it, something that could make her incredibly proud of me, more proud of me than she'd ever been. I wanted to give her the honor of walking on Palanca-winner-dust-spattered carpets of some hotel, in shoes we'd bought specifically for the occasion. I wanted to go up on a stage (or whatever it is) and grin at her while I hold a medal, and the, hehe, the check. I wanted to give her a hug, what medal there was between our sternums (it's her fault I'm flat-chested), cool at first, then warming to the skin beneath our dresses. I wanted to tell her, "Mom, I won a Palanca. Apir!" But I didn't. And I couldn't do all that, not this year, no.

I sent her a message, a couple of days after all the winners of the category I'd joined in had surfaced: "Mom, I wish I could tell you that I won a Palanca, and that it was for you. But I didn't. Sorry."

And she replied with, "Oh love, that doesn't matter, and yes, this is cliched, but there's always next year. You will always make me proud, Palancas don't matter, not really. Know what? Just give me your diploma, and I'll be the happiest mother in the world."

And I cried, and I couldn't send her a reply, because I was too preoccupied, bawling with my face buried in the nearest welcoming chest, which smelled of wood chips, soap, High Endurance, a good night's sleep, a hell of a good morning, and that moment when you sit down with the clothes that have dried on the clothesline and you just need to smooth the creases with your chafed palms.

"What's wrong?" he asked, and I showed him my phone, and he kissed the top of my head, and he said, "Awww." And then I punched him on the stomach, and he laughed, and I knew exactly what he meant.

The first time a certain award-winning, highly esteemed poet (buwahaha) made me cry (yes, this wasn't a one-time thing), he made a shot at my mother. This was at the heels of him saying my mother was hot. (Men are weird that way.) And then a few seconds later, he said, in not so many words, and I do not quote (so italics na lang): Your mother, she is bad, yes.

See, I had launched into the inner workings of my family, of how my brother and I sneak out at the dead of the night to share some Lethal Mentoses, of how my mother always let us go our own ways, make our own choices, but never letting us forget that the family was always there for us. All that mushy stuff that I couldn't really verbalize, and so I just gave examples. Poor ones, apparently, because then Mr. Poet said something, implying my mother was a bad mother, and before I could reach for the nearest beer bottle and rid the world of a great literary man-dude, the glare I'd directed at him had turned wobbly, and before I knew it, I was trying to stoically stare at my shoes instead, and damn it, I was crying. Gah, guerilla-girl tactics, crying, yech. Conscience-ridden me, fuck it, decided I'd have more satisfaction fantasizing his death by molasses and fire ants, rather than me doing it myself with any blunt object, or my elbow (which is also considered a blunt object anyway).

Mr. Poet apologized, and I think he knew he should never tread on that plane again, because I may have cried that one time, but the next time it should ever happen, I will draw blood. Promise. Reminds me of the time when my principal kept hinting that I was the spawn of damned people, and my head was abuzz with, One word about my mother, you hag, and your face will blend in to that blackboard behind you not too nicely.

Mr. Poet said, "Oh, don't cry na, Sasha, sorry. I said your mom was hot naman, di ba?" Orayt.

My mother wrote me a letter a year ago, for an Ethical Will project for a Nonfiction seminar. And this is what I wrote for that project, or tried to write (yes, my nonfiction sucks ass):

The night before this paper was due, my mother sent me a text message: “I have emailed the values. Please insert where you see fit – Never lose your sense of humor and your belief in the wonders of one-liners. Approach life with passion not timidly and safely. Do not be afraid to get hurt but be afraid if it does not make you stronger.”

Reading the message aglow on my screen, I was struck with some sort of trepidation. My mother has never been the sort of person to give out Hallmark cards during birthdays. She’s never been the type of mother who baked cookies on weekends or demanded hugs and kisses as she came home from work. My mother is an abysmal cook. Maybe because it’s inevitable that she be compared to my father, who does all the cooking, and with good food, at that. Over the years, my mother’s repertoire has changed little: sushi, salsa, chili, tacos, penne with seafood sauce and molo. The one time she baked some brownies for us, they came out rock-hard and she was forever banned from approaching the oven by a two-meter radius – banned by me.

She’d not the type of mother who would ask you aside and talk to you about your life, begging for some tidbits about boys, school, boys and more boys. She doesn’t ask, “How are you feeling, dear?” as she tucks a wayward curl behind my ear. My mother asks, “How’s school?” And I would mumble the token, “Okay naman,” all the while, not-so-surreptitiously making a beeline for the exit. When given a more honest answer like, “I’m miserable. I hate school,” she asks, “Why? What’s wrong?” and we’d get to the bottom of it, but not without making some U-turns and detours here and there, talking about the latest The Simpsons episode, or some favorite wrestler, fencing all the while with one-liners from TV, mostly cartoons. An inquiry about my location would be a paraphrase from Dexter’s Laboratory, complete with mangled accents:

“Sasha, where are you?”

“Right here.”

“Where here?”

“Here here.”

“I don’t see you . . .”

With the last line being said together: “Uh-oh, I think Dee Dee’s become the caaar!”

Completely inane, as you can see.

The mushy words that linger between us like secret farts have all been uttered under duress, complete with squirming and really awkward laughter. Happy Birthday? Hug. Happy New Year? Hug. Merry Christmas? A hug, plus a kiss if she gave me something really pretty.

My mother shows her love in a markedly different way from all the “normal” mothers out there. (Yes, all of us, including her, admit that my mom is abnormal and weird.) She does it matter-of-factly and in this way, she manages to surprise me. Like before college, she asked me if I wanted to be a writer. When I said yes, she asked me to shift into this course. When I thought about applying for a writers’ workshop, she told me to go through with it, only if I wanted to. I did, and she let me. Of course, she listened, patiently, as I told her of my irrational fear of flying – mainly because I haven’t done it before. She listened and told me, “Come on,” with her signature smirk.

But I know that I can tell her anything because I know I will be heard as an adult. And she has a way of putting things into perspective for me. When I lost a phone, I fretted and cried and she said, “It’s only a phone. Sayang, sure, but we love you more than that.” And she was hugging me. When I sunk into episodes of depression, she’d call me everyday, saying as little as possible, and our small talk slowly pulled me out of my funks.

No, my mother is not the conventional mother of fragrant kitchens and spotless aprons. My mother is the mother who laughs at cartoons with us, the one who goes with me to spelunk for books in second-hand bookstores, the one who squirms at a hug, the one who occasionally slips and calls us “love” once in a while.

The following is a letter from her to me. Reading it at such an opportune time once again put things in perspective for me. These tidbits from my mother are things I am grateful to receive, and something that I hope I will carry with me, as Hallmark as that may sound.


Dear Daughter,

In terms of material wealth, there is not much, if none at all that your father and I can bequeath to you. It saddens me personally as I have made it my vow that my children will never experience how it feels not to have money in the pocket, to have to ask a parent and have her give you a litany of how hard life is, that money does not grow on trees, blah, blah and more blah. I have made my needs of the least priority if my children have urgent needs of their own. Perhaps this has made me a push-over. This is of no consequence, however, as long as they will know the feeling of belonging. My life is governed by past rejections that my perspective has been warped by what not to do. The values that I wanted to impart to my children are based on everything that is opposite to my personal experiences and my hurts yet with the attempt to intersperse it with the sense of right and wrong. My upbringing was one that is sheltered because of my mother who for selfish reasons did not allow me to go out anywhere not even for a Girl Scout jamboree. With you and your brothers, I took the other route and allowed you to mingle with your peers, to join activities and thus expose you to different environments, opportunities, scenarios, judgments which I am hoping will translate to future intelligent decisions based on actual knowledge and experience rather than vicarious learning.

Along the way, I try to guide by example hoping that my actions will be passed on and lived by my daughter and sons. I am aiming for financial stability and independence. To achieve this, it should be done through hard work and self-reliance. Each task is important on its own and there is no job too small or too big that it cannot be done the best possible way it can be done. Everyone should be treated with fairness and respect. Prejudice or bias does not have a place in this family. Always carry with you a sense of honor. Hold yourself liable to your commitments and meet them whenever possible and always try to make everything possible. Let no one belittle you not even yourself. Brand and luxury is not a priority. Comfort is. Make this your mantra – form and substance, substance and form. Do not approach anything armed with only one. Always take them together. Set your immediate objectives, however selfish they may be. However, this should only be at the start. Your objectives must always end with plans to pay forward, to give back what you have been blessed with through hard work. Stay practical. Never let your heart rule your mind. Focus on your objectives. Keep your eyes on the prize and do not deviate. There is always the right time and place. Analyze all actions with pros and cons. There is no fate. There is no destiny. Your future is set by the choices that you make. Do not over analyze either that you will never act. Your first instinct is usually always right. Be forthright. Do not hide behind lies and half-lies and as the UP people say, the truth will set you free. Face up to your decisions. Do not fret and try to anticipate other people’s reactions and, more importantly, do not dwell on their reactions. However, if you decide on something, you should be able to prove yourself right.

Your father cannot stress enough the importance of family. Between him and me, he is the one who has heart. He’s Homer. I am no Marge, sadly. What I am is a mother who wants to see all her children happy, content, leading useful and productive lives and who watches out for each other. The success of one is the success of the other. I am not talking of dole-outs. I am talking of time and effort and follow through to make each one’s life meaningful. All I can give right now is unconditional love, free of judgment but filled with action plans and guidance. And hugs. Yes, really.

I love you, Elisha. I say that with implicit fact rather than sweet sentimentality. Chill.

Mami (I am your)

I cry easily. A compliment, a spontaneous hug, an e-mail, that Globe commercial when there's a man in a wheelchair and there's a woman fussing over him and he sends her a text message and the woman looks up and smiles at him really soft-like. I cry easily, and even though I'll probably lynched by the gliterry literary world, I mean every tear when I mean every tear. Seeing my name in print, for example, or on a bulletin board along EDSA walk, those kinds of tears. And then my mother, who's caught me off-guard more times than I care to count.

I remember when my Pollyanna essay, Everybody Has a Story appeared in the Youngblood column and I called her while she was in the office, and when she came home, she had eight copies of the newspaper and a tub of strawberry ice cream, and she told me, laughing, how she'd knocked on the metal door of every closing sari-sari store just to get the copies. I remember, when I got accepted in Ateneo for AB European Studies, she told me to write a letter to the administration, asking to be shifted to BFA Creative Writing, because that's what I really want, wasn't it? And I remember, after a class with Sir Krip, when my short story The Return was discussed, and he'd told me during consultation, "I can't teach you anything else. You're a writer." And I called my mom, and we did some mutual giggling. I remember when that story got published in Free Press, and it was my mother I called first, and she kept saying Wow, and she kept saying, You're first short story published, in Free Press. Oh god, that's a big thing, right? and I remember how I stayed on the line as she Googled what Free Press was, and what it could mean. I remember that a year ago, in Calatagan, Martin sent me a text message, congratulating me on some good writerly news. And I ran to the nearest Internet shop (hard to do, in Calatagan, hello), and before I could think of the damage to my ridiculously unhealthy body, I ran to my mother, who was curled up in the bunk bed reading Byatt, and I said, "Mom. I got in. Dumaguete." I remember how she helped me pack, making a table of what I should be wearing for the day, and how we both forgot to pack some underwear, and so all my bras and panties were stuffed at what available nook and cranny there was. I remember her calling me up right after my first story was discussed, and I told her everything they said, and then I called her after my second story was discussed, I remember this phone call happened while everyone was in a Dance Tribute, and I was weaving my way in and out of the lawn, trying to keep my voice low. I remember when I came back, and my eyes were glazed, and we were in a cafe in Quezon, and she ordered some coffee, and she said, "You want to talk about it?" And I said, "I can't." And she said, "Ew, I don't think I want to know then." I remember when another story was published, and she laughed, and said, "Good job, love." I remember when Sarge Lacuesta sent me a (suspicious-looking, haha) email, informing me that The Return was a finalist in this year's Free Press Awards, and I'd stared, dumbfounded, at the computer screen, and then it was my mother I first thought of, and I sent her a message (short on load), and she replied with, and I quote, "WOOHOO." And then she called me and squealed, and said, "WOOHOO" again. I remember sending manic messages to her during the ceremony, telling her I had to go to the bathroom real bad, screw everything, and her telling me to Calm down. Apparently, B. loses her hair when she's stressed, and you lose your bowels. And I remember I texted her, "Didn't get anything, save for a box of matches. I'm off to get drunk." And I remember she replied with, "Okay. But not too drunk. You've got class tomorrow." I remember when I saw my name on the Heights bulletin board, telling me I was a fellow, and I remember I told her first. I remember the morning of the workshop, and she sent me a message, "Have fun. Chin up when criticism goes your way. Don't let your head grow big with whatever praise they give you." And I remember coming down from Antipolo, having lunch with her, and we both didn't have to say anything. I remember when Marra Lanot of Graphic told me This Fleet of Shadows would be published soon, and I remember my mother telling me, "You never cease to amaze me." I remember when I got the Heights issue came out, and I told her I had two stories there, and she said, "Yay, love. You never cease to amaze me, kid." And I remember her telling me, after reading Quick, the Tomatoes, "You never cease to amaze me. Can you really smoke aphids out?" And I remember I cried because of that, but I replied that yes, you really can smoke aphids out. I remember, just last night, telling her, "Mom, oh my god, the story in Graphic is out! Page 42! And Sir Krip's column, buwahahaha!" And she replied with, "Ah, wonderful. Congratulations! Where can I get a copy?" And I remember, how, just this morning, I told her how a professor had told me, "This girl can write," over that overly dramatic story of mine about the Japanese Occupation, and I remember that I quoted a barf-able line to her, "I truly have nothing to live for. And that makes me the perfect candidate to die for anything at all," and I remember how my mother wrote me, "Simply amazes me how you meld seemingly disparate words and turn them into a story." And I remember how I just sat back, and just stared at the computer, and tried to telepathically hug my mother, trying not to cry, because I was in Mag:net then, and Sir Rock was beside me, and it didn't seem polite to cry while he was staring at a picture of Sisig-stuffed Sili.

I wanted to make this as short as a paragraph, but you know how things are.

From Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson: "You said, 'I Love You.' Why is it that the most unoriginal thing we can say to one another is still the thing we long to hear? 'I Love You' is always a quotation. You did not say it first and neither did I, yet when you say it and when I say it we speak like savages who have found three words and worship them. I did worship them but now I am alone on a rock hewn out of my own body."

Wala lang. Bzzzt.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Electric girls with worn down toys

The UAAP Basketball Finals, Game 2, brought to you by Sasha Martinez, told in the Third Person, because all the cool kids do it this way:

First Quarter: Sasha starts transferring files from old laptop to new one. Decides to turn borrowed, fuzzy TV on, for some noise. Ah, the game. Sends mandatory text to brother, who's studying in the La Salle, GO ATENEO, to which he replies, GO ATENEO. Watches as the Other Team scores four points. Picks up The Book Thief, has an attack of conscience, and picks up Nicomachean Ethics. Conscience decides to live up to its highly selective reputation, and allows Sasha to pick up Zusak again. One team has a higher score than the other, but fuzzy screen prevents interpretation. Chirpy TV voice informs her of the last two minutes of the quarter. And then, incredibly pain from insides starts. Lights a cigarette, checks her laptops, shuffles out of the room.

Second Quarter: Off to the bathroom with cigarette. Don't ask what she did there. After, suddenly remembers the laundry that's been hanging on the clothesline for about two days. Drenched wet, everything is. Goes back inside, drapes wet clothes over the back of a chair. Ateneo might be winning. Starts to fantasize of classes suspended. Thinks of st---- timeline game for a class tomorrow. 1973, my boyfriend was born. Someone is screaming on TV. Puts down Zusak, picks up Aristotle. Puts down Aristotle, diddles with laptop. Finds encoded journal entries from two years ago. Cringes. Cringes again. Another trip to the bathroom.

Third Quarter: Someone is mad on the television. Sasha sends P. a message, ordering him to be careful. Does a flashback. Does another flashback, this time while playing Bennett's As Time Goes By. Lights a cigarette. Someone's texted, needs to know what to do about the paper on Iliad, due for tomorrow. Thinks, Fuck it. Looks for her paper on Foucault, and Recto as a possible sexual landscape. Grins at the grade. Remembers mother's text when messaged, "I got an A!" -- "You never cease to impress me :-)." Remembers she didn't know what to send in reply, so she simply paused in the middle of the overpass she'd been crossing -- that is, until grimy little boy tells her to buy some bananas for him to eat. Sasha looks at the television; she knows she has to keep up: journalistic integrity and all that jazz. Back starts to hurt with all the bending over the laptops. Wonders about electricity bill.

Fourth Quarter: Someone is really mad on the television. One of them guys looks like the worst kind of asshole, the kind that gives you all those vomitocious looks while you're sprawled on the floor with an assortment of broken bones. (Yes, I typed in vomitocious. Try it. It’s fulfilling. Making up words makes you feel invincible.) Sasha starts to feel giddy -- whatever magical juju makes the TV work has allowed her to see more than fuzz and static: Ateneo is leading. Sasha thiks, Wow, we might actually win. Thinks of how it all fits together, 150 years, senior year, that guy Chris Tiu, whom she always sees around school but can never recognize until bewildered staring and five minutes later. Horrifies herself with the spurt of school spirit. Lights a cigarette, transfers Feist and The Killers and Yael Naim to her other laptop. Last two minutes. Someone's still pissed. Someone does a free throw. Last 45 seconds, Ateneo leads by ten points, give or take. Computes in her head: three three-point shots, plus a two-pointer for good measure. Admits she's fatalistic. Last 15 seconds: a blue smudge on the screen hugs the ball to his crotch. Thinks she might actually like this sport. Watches a swarm of blue and white on the court. Sees all the crying, and the hugging. Thinks of how it'd be if she were there, imagines the rancid stench of victory and Gatorade sweat. More people are hugging. Sasha texts brother, and mother, and P., none of whom reply. Insides start to ache again. Lights another cigarette. Turns the TV off. Stores away old laptop. Opens a Madison Hayes file on new laptop. Wriggles on the bed. Sneezes. Acknowledges the start of a headache. After five minutes, all the text messages flood in, telling her what she already sort of knows.

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They taped over your mouth

1 – My dad called me, said, “Magaling na raw magsulat ang anak ko a.” And I laughed, and joked, “Ay, kagaling raw nireng anak niyo, kagaling.” And I remembered how, in Calatagan, I’d be walking with my grandmother from our day in the market, and she’d stop by, it seemed to me then, every freaking house on the street, making idle chatter with the neighbors. And I’d listen to her talk to them, say, “Parang uulan ngayong hapon,” and then, she’d say, again, “Parang uulan ngayong hapon,” but slower now, almost as if the last thought was just for herself, something gentler than a mutter, something more iterative than a mumble. Ah, words.

2 – A week or so ago, P. got Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores and Of Love and Shadows. And so I sat down, ignored everything that I should've been doing, and read Memories, and hours later, I was done, and I had this gem: “Don’t let yourself die without knowing the wonder of fucking with love.” Amen.

2.1 – I hereby resolve that before I turn twenty, I will have read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and this one, and that one), and not just have skimmed them, looking for the juicy parts. Pramis.

3 – Medyo late news 'to, ha, pero mahirap lang mawal sa utak ko. During the Heights book launch, AHWW co-fellow Brandz handed me a contributor’s copy. The pretty, hardbound one. The kind I never knew existed until about a year ago, when Martin brandished his, and I growled, “They give you that when you get published? I am so sending them my stuff.” Anyway. There I was, wearing pink (the pinkness of my shirt is relevant, it just is), with the book nestled in my spread palms, and I thought, Shit. The kind of Shit you say when you’re not exactly about to cry, more like so giddy and gaga over everything that you just want to go on a Hug Rampage. That kind of Shit. Yes, kinilig ako. (Translation: Yes, I so got kilig.) I opened the book to the table of contents, saw my name (saw my name again, buwahahaha). I ran to P., (and to Martin, to Marie, to Panch the Younger, and to Petra, haha), and I said, “Oh god, look.” Wasak lang.

Siguro dahil may history kaya wasak na wasak ako, haha. Siguro. I remember, freshman year, I submitted about five poems, and five short stories (sinagad e), and each and every one of them got rejected. Fine. Haha. It’s emo daw kasi (and this was before they all started using the word – iba talaga ‘pag pasimuno, hehe), pa-gothic. Astig lang na meron na na-publish na ‘ko sa wakas, haha. That’s the sentiment, haha: finally.

Wala sa isip kong magyabang. Kinikilig lang talaga ako. Malabo siguro, may mga iba diyan kung saan-saan na na-publish (parang pinaparinggan ko sarili ko, ang labo, haha), pero, eh, basta. Ayoko i-analyze masyado, pero eto masasabi ko: It’s almost the same feeling when you get yourself a new pair of skinny jeans, and you try them on for the first time, and you’re hopping around the damned room because they’re just so freaking tight on you, and then when you’ve calmed the zipper and the buttons down, ang sarap ng kapit ng tela sa hita mo, every centimeter of your legs can feel the rasp of that denim, the weave, even the stitching running along the side. So, yeah, beyond the observation that I wear really tight pants, that’s what this particular publication feels like. Apir!

(At sa wakas, na-publish din kami ni Martin sa (technically) isang anthology, or publication. Sabi naming dati, at least once, simulan namin sa Heights. Sure, you have to flip over the book to see each of our names, pero okay na’ko dun, for now. Cool lang, hehe.)

4 – I have been chanting, “Get thee to the nunnery!” since yesterday afternoon, and it is, quite frankly, driving me crazy.

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