An attempt to make sense of things in a random universe, one Friday at a time.

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Location: Philippines

Leaving my footsteps for you to find and follow, my love.

25 September 2009

Horror movies

The very first horror movie that I saw in my entire life was “The Thing.” I was probably seven or eight years old at that time. I found the Betamax tape for it from a stack near the TV one evening, amid tapes of Disney and Looney Tunes and Voltes V and NBA games, and watched it when everyone else was out for the evening. The maid left the room after the first scary scene, so I ended up watching the rest of the movie alone.

The movie never scared me. For one, I particularly remember not seeing at all the actual Thing that horrified and killed many of the characters in the movie. Also, the movie was set in some snow-bound encampment where it always seemed to be night, so the scenes were a little difficult to see. I suppose I was either too young to understand that it was something that was supposed to scare me, or too jaded at such a young age to believe that any of it was real.

I grew up in a small farming barrio in Camarines Sur, a community that has been around for hundreds of years. Naturally, old wives’ tales and rumors of all kinds of aswang were everyday things. Our maids would often tell my brother, sister and me ghost stories before putting us to bed. My sister would be scared, but I would fall asleep so easily and stay asleep so soundly as if I had just read a feel-good bedtime story.

It was obvious that even early on in my life, horror movies and horror stories would not hold the usual spell over me.

What do I get out of horror movies if not the scare that other people watch them for? Surprisingly, comfort. Although come to think of it, this is not really so surprising. Because aren’t horror movies, on some level, meant to comfort us with the knowledge that they are just movies and those things will never really happen to us? I have never believed in ghosts or spirits or aswangs or mananaggals or vampires, not even when they were ordinary fare when I was growing up. Maybe it was this early inundation with folklore that gave me a more objective eye when confronted by the horrific tale. Maybe it’s because I have never seen or heard or felt anything that can be remotely identified as paranormal, even when I’m seated right beside someone experiencing that exact thing at the very same moment, gripping my arm with icy hands while I brush off her hoarse squawks and continue chewing my chocolate wafer and reading my Nancy Drew. Maybe it’s because during my childhood every dark shadow that seemed to hover in the corner of the room always turned out to be either a chair heaped with jackets or a dress on a hanger waiting to be worn for a party the next evening.

Maybe it’s because I have always believed that every single dark and looming thing I don’t comprehend at first can always be broken down into its basic commonplace, non-horrific components -- such as a chair, or a heap of jackets, or a dress on a hanger, or a guilty conscience, or a nagging memory, or a sudden remembrance, or a déjà vu moment, or a big secret, or a love in progress, or a dream about to be born. And there it is, something that we should never, ever be scared of.

[Image credits: 1, 2]

18 September 2009

Go, story

True love is like ghosts. You can feel it coming, and then when it finally goes, you are left there with a slightly trembling heart. But it never really goes. You remember the moment for as long as you live because you imbued it with the power to save you, but it never does. It leaves you just on the brink of salvation, exhausted, dispirited, unable to pull yourself over to the other side.

It rained, I remember, the night she came.

Thus begins a story that I have started writing years ago and haven't yet finalized now, even after over twenty drafts. But after a little more time, it appears to have finalized itself without any need for me. It has come to the point where the story has taken a life of its own and has shaken itself free of me. Now I can only stand by and watch the story shape itself into a world where I can see myself walking silently among the characters, the grass, the words, the fears, the memories -- a different me walking, a different me looking out of the page to look at myself reading that very same page.

Always, at this point, I know I can let go of the story and let it fly to the form of publication that it is destined to join.

And then I go back to the more mundane things that seem to occupy my life in between stories: clean up my apartment, call a few friends, sleep, get some work done for the presentation due on Tuesday, pay my bills, order a new checkbook, listen to the The Royal Tenenbaums for the millionth time. It feels a little empty, but only for a moment. Because there is always yet another draft to finish, another story to write, another plot to thicken, another idea to dwell on. And then when the whole strange, inexplicable, fascinating, magical cycle starts over again, it will feel like a ghost has touched me once more, just a moment before the rains come.

[Image credit]

11 September 2009


You smile at me from across the table and around us people don’t see. Fathers sip their coffee, mothers take a forkful of lasagna. Yet across that table we weave a tapestry of loving glances which, as the night wore on, took the liberty to adjust itself into colors so voluptuous they home into my stomach, curbing my need for food.

[Image credit]

07 September 2009

Year Two with Jim

In your travels over hills and mountains I hope you won’t ignore those ponds tucked deep in forests like words held under your tongue. And when you get there I hope you will dive in, for there in the cool, dark waters you might find me, almost drowning in a verb that has melted into oblivion.

Happy second anniversary, my love.

[Some related posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

[Image credit]

04 September 2009

Onion skin love

At times I wonder if I chose to be a writer because I am enamored with words, or because I am enamored with paper. For one, as a writer I have always felt the need to hold paper in my hands. Not for me, those things like word processing or eBooks or working in The Cloud; give me paper and any writing instrument, and I’m all set. I have used computers – the old Macintosh Powerbook 165c from my Dad, my sister’s Intel desktop she had through college, my own iBook G3, a 12-inch PowerBook G4, my sister’s next Intel desktop she had as a fresh graduate, and my current 15-inch MacBook Pro – only for preparing drafts for publication, and for games and email and browsing the web. For writing needs, I always went to back to good old paper manufactured from good old trees.

And my favorite paper is onion skin. Ever since I was little, I have always held a fascination for the delicate, cream-colored paper that rustled noisily each time I held it in my hands. I love that it is so thin but has its own integrity that it can’t easily be torn. I love that its watermark looks more “watery” that regular paper watermarks. I love that you can see through it to the writing on the next page, like a promise of something more to come. I love that the delicate thinness of its structure gives its creamy surface a gently mottled look, like the skin of a lady that has elegantly and beautifully graced. I love that it is not white. I love that it does not give me paper cuts. I love that when it is held in a thick sheaf the sheaf acquires an unforeseen heft, as if each extra-thin onion skin sheet held secret powers of weight that were drawn out only by the presence of hundreds of other onion skin papers, a discreet and very stylish army of pressed and distressed paper pulp that can broadcast volumes worth of words to the whole world.

I would write on these onion skin sheets and type on them using at least twenty sheets a day on the average. They made up the pages of my journal for several years. I would carry around sheets of onion skin paper in my bag and write entries for my journal during the day while at school or in the library or at work. I would roll them into my typewriter and type my journal entries very early in the morning, before my day began. My journals for the period between 1998 and 2006 are composed of ten volumes of two inch-thick books filled entirely with onion skin paper, mostly in cream, sometimes in pink and green and blue. I would send friends and relatives long letters typewritten on onion skin paper, and I kept carbon copies to keep in my diaries. I loved how I could mail up to fifteen onion skin pages in a letter envelope and still be charged only the standard postage. And that made me send even more letters to more friends and relatives more often.

For a while I even tried to feed onionskin paper into inkjet printers and laser printers in the hope that I can send a polished word-processed draft to an editor in onion skin. The bright idea didn’t work; the printers either jammed or won’t take in the sheet. (In retrospect, I’m glad it didn’t work, for the industry standard is really at least mid-weight regular white letter-sized paper. I’d have been the laughing stock of editors all over Metro Manila.) But for personal use, onion skin paper was my staple. There's always an envelope of them in my bags, in my drawers, on my desks. I’d bind them into notebooks, I’d cut them into smaller pieces for writing down notes to myself and other people, and I’d never be without a constant supply of at least two reams. Sometimes I would even dream of onion skin paper butterflies while I slept.

I first discovered onionskin paper one afternoon when I was quite young. I was rummaging for a pen in my father’s desk, and I came upon a sheaf of very thin paper. I asked my father about it when he came home that night, and he told me that it was called onion skin paper because it was as thin as the skin of an onion. And then he showed me on the typewriter how onion skin paper is used to make carbon copies. I decided at that moment that onionskin paper was one of the most beautiful things in the world, and that I would never be without it.

Now I'm still an onion skin user and I'm even more fascinated by it than I was on the first day. For after a while, I realized how ironic it was that it is called onion skin – a euphimism for being highly sensitive and easily hurt, in humans – when onion skin paper is a rather tough weave, tougher than most other papers because it’s made of more cotton fibers than most other papers. The onion is also one very tough bulb. Slice it and you cry. Add it to food and the food suddenly acquires a tang. Munch on it and you will repel all kinds of people. String several of them on a piece of twine and you will repel all kinds of aswang. It’s been around for decades, witness to the movement of civilizations and their food and the evolution of the occult.

And yet when we speak of onion skin paper what comes to mind is fine, creamy, delicate paper that needs to be handled with care. The writer in me swoons at the irony. Yes, I did become a writer because I am enamored with paper – onion skin paper. But I am also enamored with connections, with history, with irony. I’m enjoying the best of these worlds. I am lucky.

[Image credits: 1, 2]

02 September 2009

And the search begins

The search for a manual typewriter for my son Chandler and my niece Cheska, that is. They saw mine when they visited me in Manila recently, and they wanted their own. And they want them badly! Chandler, for instance -- who has typed up the first sentence of a story about a swan who lost its voice on my typewriter -- has taken to calling me up everyday to ask if I have acquired a typewriter for him from any one of my 2,000 officemates. I have already begun, but since the typewriter is fast going the way of the dodo, I need a little bit more help.

Thus, I am on a mission.

I have decided not to purchase brand new typewriters for them. The new ones are made of plastic and they skitter across the table when being typed on, and they are so flimsy that I am certain they won't even last. I prefer the older manual typewriters because they are sturdy and more reliable. I can't have Chandler feeling bad once a flimsy plastic typewriter breaks down. (And I can't have Chandler asking me once again to look for a typewriter from all of my 2,000 officemates.)

So, help!

And just to pique your interest, here are vintage typewriter ads for the Royal Portable, which came in different color choices.

Do drop me a comment if you know leads on any typewriters within Metro Manila that still work, no matter how dirty. Since my comments page is moderated, you can be sure your contact details will stay private. Many, many thanks!

[Image credit]