Tuesday, December 9

& Launch

If you find yourself in UP Diliman today, please drop by CAL 201 for the launch of &, the new journal dedicated to new writing by students of the Creative Writing Program. For the first volume, works from CW classes (including the free for all CW 10) from 2006-2008 were considered. A couple of former students' works are included. My favorite is the one about a crucifixion. Anyway, please drop by and check it out and get a copy. It's a handsome journal that will stop people in its tracks, and it's just Php 100.

Friday, December 5


The built in dictionary in my computer tells me that "to cull" means to "select from a large quantity" or even more telling, "to reduce the population of (x) by selective slaughter." The x in the definition was wild animals, but in my case, my goal is to reclaim shelf space.

I have "panic piles": At home, there are three stacks beside the desk divided into fiction, theory/CL references, screenplays. There's one reserved for what I'm currently working on, like the stack of crime fiction I had amassed while taking up a writing class that required me to come up with a story with crime in it. In the end, I don't think I read a lot from the panic file. But it did manage to calm me down a bit to know that in case I get blocked, there's something I can refer to or take inspiration from.

I suspect it's the panic pile that made my shelves burst with all sorts of books. My desk at the office now holds two piles: one for the fiction classes, another for the comics, and not much real estate left for actual writing. The situation at home isn't any different. I already had one culling session at home, wherein I put all the books I had in my room in the middle of the floor, and began piling them into keep/throw, with special mounds for fiction, nonfiction, plays/drama/screenplay, poetry. The tallest pile was fiction, the mere molehill, poetry.

Laura Miller in her essay says that the books we keep say a lot about ourselves and our state of mind: "There are two general schools of thought on which books to keep, as I learned once I began swapping stories with friends and acquaintances. The first views the bookshelf as a self-portrait, a reflection of the owner’s intellect, imagination, taste and accomplishments.For others, especially those with literary careers, a personal library can be “emotional and totemic,” in the words of the agent Ira Silverberg. Books become stand-ins for friends and clients."

I suppose my panic and to keep piles attest to that. But Miller has more: "The other approach views a book collection less as a testimony to the past than as a repository for the future; it’s where you put the books you intend to read." I'm not going to claim that I've read each book I own. There are books I buy because I intend to read them. It is wishful thinking. I have a copy of the The Complete Stories and Fables of Kafka that I've had since college and I never read it fully. Or sometimes I love a book so much that I buy a copy when I find it in book bins. Only to find out later that I just bought my third copy of Sylvia Plath's novel. I eventually gave away all my copies of The Bell Jar, I think.

Right now, my goal is to get rid of previous panic piles which have no use for me anymore. While I liked The Truman Show (film and script), there's no reason to hold on to the script book, especially since it can be accessed on the net anyway. And the many many potboilers I picked up and never got around to finishing? Maybe I'll hold on to it a bit more.

Anyone want to put together a used books sale?

I suppose my panic and to keep piles att

Thursday, December 4

Mlle. Personality

Stumbled upon this site called Typealyzer, where you put in your blog's URL and it tells you what kind of personality you have. Apparently, I'm a Visionary. More:

The charming and trend savvy type. They are especially attuned to the big picture and anticipate trends. They often have sophisticated language skills and come across as witty and social. At the end of the day, however, they are pragmatic decision makers and have a good analytical abilitity.

They enjoy work that lets them use their cleverness, great communication skills and knack for new exciting ventures. They have to look out not to become quitters, since they easily get bored when the creative exciting start-up phase is over.
Really, now: "social" and "witty" in the same sentence? Right.

A bit of warning though: I typed in the URL of a Filipino speaking blog, but it turns out Typealyzer only supports English and Swedish (!), so there you go. But it wouldn't hurt to try.

Swiped quiz off this.

Wednesday, November 26

Note for Teacher, with Annotations

Here's a sample of the sort of notes that I get from students at the University. It's (1) in taglish, (2) textspeak, (3) very very rude--at least for me. And apparently, somebody else feels the same way I do: Someone left a note on the student's note. S/he said, in gayspeak (or street parlance--whatever colloquialism you have in mind): How rude.

Click on the photo and read the note yourself.

Tuesday, November 25

Creative Writhing for Beginners

My favorite subject
Originally uploaded by xkg
Found this gem at the height of checking season last month. I know that a lot of students think CW 10 is an "easy" subject, something to squeeze in between 10-11.30 Math 57 and the 2.30-4 Physics 10. But really, writing for beginners is hard work. My Korean student from last semester got it right--maybe the course should be renamed "Creative Writhing 10."

Friday, November 21

Osamu Tezuka

I got locked out of my office for almost the entire day, and now that I finally got in to cool my heels (and my head), here are two trailers of movies based on works by Osamu Tezuka. So 2009 is turning out to be an interesting year for Osamu Tezuka adaptations.

First off is the rather "Americanized" version of Astroboy, which uses a lot of computer graphics (or is it animation?) Astroboy looks like he's ready to fight, none of the blink-blink niceness of the cartoons I grew up with.

Then here is the trailer of the live action film based on Tezuka's graphic novel M/W (pronounced "Mu"). I don't understand Nihonggo, so what the voiceover actually says, I just assume to be about the wipeout of the island's population because of the spill from an American military base. I can't embed the trailer here so just click this link to watch the trailer.

Wednesday, November 19

The Multitudes

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly spent some time interviewing and observing creative people and noted that:
Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it's complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an "individual," each of them is a "multitude."
Imagine the conversations an "individual" has with the "multitudes" in her brain. "Is this a good enough conflict?," she asks. "Nah," the other says. "Crossing bridges isn't interesting. Burn it!" Yet another raises her hand. "But that's not a revolution. Isn't that mere anarchy?"

Csikszentmihaly also observed that if most people are either introverts and extroverts, most creatives are both. They are also proud and humble at the same time, and this comes from an awareness that they did something important, but that others have also done more than they had. It's quite a contradiction.

He also says that the most excruciating thing for creatives is when they can't create. At all:
Perhaps the most difficult thing for creative individuals to bear is the sense of loss and emptiness they experience when, for some reason, they cannot work. This is especially painful when a person feels his or her creativity drying out.

Yet when a person is working in the area of his of her expertise, worries and cares fall away, replaced by a sense of bliss. Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.

Tuesday, November 18

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam

I found my copy of The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam in Powerbooks Midtown. I wandered over to the nonfiction section and was looking for Persepolis (which like Maus is frequently shelved with the other "biographies") when I found something bright bluish green. I looked at the cover and was fascinated by the little drawing:

It was drawn by Ben Gibson and the inside pages suggest that it be shelved under the categories of "Magicians-China-biography-comic books, strips, etc." and also "Long Tack Sam-Comic books, strips, etc."

So is it a book about magicians from China, or a biography of a magician from China, or a comic book, period? It is all three, but the weird shelving contributes to the confusion. If I'm into comic books, I'd look at the comics shelf, or if I'm into biography, I'll head into the nonfiction section, where I'll find this between the biographies of Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Meanwhile, the review from Entertainment Weekly recommends this for fans of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. Wtf? But anyway, who reads EW for the book reviews, right? Also, the American Library Association lists it as part of their Top 10 Comic Books for Teens. So what is this book really?

But anyway, I liked the cover and when I looked inside the book, there was this rather crude drawing of a girl telling me that her life was all about messing with the proper borders. Ann Marie Fleming was born in Japan, but couldn't get a birth certificate because her parents were not Japanese. Her mother is from HongKong, but they couldn't go there and so it happened that her birth certificate was issued by Korea. All her life, this is what would happen.

Then she discovers that she has a great-grandfather who was a magician with a touring company at the height of Vaudeville. But she knows almost nothing about this man because her grandmother wouldn't say anything. So she travels around the world trying to find out who Long Tack Sam is.

She pieces together old photographs, playbills, posters, and drawings of herself as "Stickgirl" interviewing various people who had known or had known about Long Tack Sam. There are pages drawn in the style of the Golden Age of comics which detail the origins of Long Tack Sam. There are many versions, but the gist is always this: that Long Tack Sam was from a poor village, and he was training to be an acrobat, or had a mean older brother so he ran away and went hungry but saw this young boy/old magician and became his apprentice and that's how he came into the magic trade.

From there he goes around the world, marries an Austrian girl in 1908, has two little girls who later join his act, and when the moving pictures came, refused to join the circuit because the movies put Asians in a bad light. After two world wars and a bad wound, he got gangrene in his leg and died. And now, nobody knows who he is until his great granddaughter stumbled upon an old costume, playbill or photograph. And I didn't know this book existed if I hadn't wandered over to the nonfiction section in a big chain bookstore.

What makes this book interesting is the mixing of different styles to tell the story of the girl looking at her family history. It's a collage of photos, posters, playbills, drawings, etc. On some pages, there's a sidebar detailing the things happening around the world on a certain year: the news headlines, historical events, popular movie or song, etc. It's an attempt to contextualize the world beyond Long Tack Sam's traveling act. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes I just wish the author could blend it with the narrative.

It's also interesting that it was first a documentary before it was a comic book/graphic memoir/whatever it wants to be. There's a note from the author saying that at first she didn't know how to tell the story on the page after doing it on video. I haven't seen the docu, but I have a feeling that it pretty much retains the humor and the collage of different elements and fusing them together into a coherent narrative. And that for me, is ultimately what it should be: a well-told story. And in that aspect, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam succeeds as a good read.

EDIT: Caleb Mozzocco of Every Day is Like Wednesday has a good review of the book. He shows page scans (which I can't do as I have no scanner and zero scanning abilities) detailing the different styles employed by Fleming in the book. Here is a sample from the Golden Age of Comics section:

Monday, November 17


I've been bingeing on comics recently, and for some reason, almost all the book covers are blue (or some shade of blue). This is really bad news for my bank account--what Christmas Bonus are you talking about?--and I don't even think the university will fund such purchases even if they're for my classes.

Anyway, first off is Ariel Shrag's Potential. Let's say if I got this on Thursday night, I'm done by Friday night. It's a chronicle of her junior year in high school, written the summer after that. The art is rather simple and the narrative isn't something out of this world: the protagonist finally decides that she only likes girls, she gets a girlfriend, dumps the girl, decides to lose her virginity to a guy friend, finds herself in a long, protracted relationship with a girl who "drains" her all the time.

It can be a bit episodic, but the real narrative anchor here is Ariel's relationship with the Sally character. I especially like the parts where Ariel's character is drunk, or dreaming, or high on drugs. The altered consciousness allows for more experimentation with visual style and narrative.

What I like about this best of all, even if let's say some will argue that Fun Home does it with more grace, is that it's a story of a teenage girl written by a teenage girl. There's a rawness and roughness to it, but you can't beat it in terms of emotional realism and (yuck!) sincerity.

Also, Shrag prefers that you her work "comics" instead of "graphic novel":

The word graphic novel is stupid. It sounds like a kid trying to use a big word and having no idea what he's talking about. It sounds like someone being obnoxious and pronouncing Nabokov's name correctly just to show off.

I got into this argument with someone when I was in high school about whether or not comics could be "real literature." He was adamant that they couldn't. They're "comics," he said, they're just "comics."

About six years later, I got an email from him apologizing for the argument. "You were right," he said, "I read graphic novels now." Oh, so now that they're "graphic novels" they can be literature. Also, Maus, Persepolis and my books are not novels of any sort. The Holocaust, the Islamic Revolution and my … "teenage sexual identity journey" … are events that actually happened.

I'm curious to read Awkward and Defintion, the earlier installments of her high school memoirs chronicling freshman and sophomore years. And I'm almost sure that the final volume Likewise, which looks at senior year, will be more mature in terms of art and narrative.

You can also watch Episodes 1-4 of Potential (The Video Comic) here.

Friday, November 14

How to tell if your cat is trying to kill you

My cat does this all the time, especially when I have a deadline.

I'm extra attentive though when she does this--it can only mean that she's pregnant. The first time it happened, I just thought that she's being affectionate. Several weeks later, she was getting heavy. Then I had to put a comforter on my lap because, man, those claws can dig.

Monday, October 13

Capote and Genius

"Dearest Cecil," wrote Truman Capote from Brooklyn on April 19, 1965, addressing his friend, the English photographer and bon vivant Cecil Beaton. "This is just an exhausted scrawl (you owe me a letter anyway), but I wanted you and Kin to know the case is over and my book is coming out next January. Perry and Dick were executed last Tuesday. I was there because they wanted me to be. It was a terrible experience. Something I will never really get over."

The letter is among those collected in "Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote", which Richard Rayner reviews for the LA Times. The book is considered to be the most important Capote book since In Cold Blood, for it shows us through his various correspondences the demands exacted by his desire to be known as a writer and as a part of the social elite. He did get what he wanted, but with a major tradeoff. In his later years, Capote had too much drugs and drink and was never ever to capture the same litheness of prose he exhibited in In Cold Blood.

But that novel was sheer genius, and "Capote believed that he had "access" to genius himself but knew too that for him "genius" was not an all-encompassing, God-given blanket, but a state of talent and mind that could be earned, or worked toward -- and lost. Such a story arc is, in a way, the subtext of this entire collection."

Rayner adds: "It's customary to posit that Capote was a victim of the celebrity he craved, but there was something heroic about him too, for he polished his craft and sacrificed his peace of mind and moral equilibrium for the production of one supreme book, a grim and enthralling exploration of death and evil."

It seems like a sad ending. But for me, to have produced even just one "supreme book" is already a tall order. Yun nga lang, to lose one's peace of mind and be consumed by genius and the demands of craft is something that one must be prepared to do.

Thursday, September 25

Page to screen

Maud Newton of the IFC admits that "adapting fiction for the screen has always been a tricky endeavor." Hollywood wants the glitter of literature and transform it into box office gold, but there are missteps all the way. Newton says: "For every "Apocalypse Now," "The Big Sleep" or "Rebecca," there are scores of butchered classics and box office duds." She cites the recent foray of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera" to the big screen. But even Javier Bardem's energy can't save it. Instead, Newton points us to another film that has Bardem in it--"No Country For Old Men," a Cormac McCarthy novel which the Coen brothers adapted for the screen. So an actor, no matter how great and gifted, can't make the jump from page to screen work. The material may be a literary classic, but it's not an assurance it'll be great movie material. Newton thinks that "No Country for Old Men" worked well for the screen because it's probably not as lush as the Marquez novel. McCarthy's prose was "so stripped-down novelistically, it tended to read like stage directions."

So if you follow that line of thought, the sort of prose that will also work for the screen is something that is stripped down and with room enough for improvisation and development. A short story really is a good candidate, and surely editor Stephanie Harrison will agree. She put together the book Adaptations, which contains 35 short stories which were the basis for Hollywood movies. The book is divided into sections, with parts for independent movies and comic books and the "difficult" ones to adapt, like Ernest Hemingway's "The Killers." All the writers who tried to adapt Hemingway for the movies said one thing: The guy writes on water. Lots of style, but all the action is suggested. But your mind is working overtime to fill in what was left unsaid. And that is where you put in all those other scenes not in the story.

Sunday, September 21

Pacino: 1, God: 0

The New York Times' Lynn Hirschberg interviews Javier Bardem. He's in the latest Woody Allen film Vicky Cristina Barcelona with Penelope Cruz, which I haven't seen yet. But I've watched him in Huevos de Oro , where he dreams of building the tallest building in Spain, and would do anything and anyone to achieve that dream. Also saw him in Love is Seriously Dangerous to Your Health, again with Penelope Cruz, a film shown in Cine Europa ages ago. Pretty much a ladies man, though he refuses to be stereotyped as such. He surely isn't that in Before Night Falls and No Country For Old Men.

In the interview, he says he admires Al Pacino so much. If someone called him at 3AM to ask him if he'd like to work with Pacino, he'd go crazy. "I don't believe in God," Bardem says. "But I believe in Al Pacino." Which is weird because in a handful of other movies Al Pacino plays the devil, a ngarag and ruffled one at that. Hmmm...

Tuesday, August 12

Sex and Sweden, Sex and France

So I'm seriously running out of shelf space in my tiny little room. My first solution was to reshelve to see if I can free up some space. But when that didn't prove effective and books started encroaching on the space previously occupied by the printer, I decided it was time for desperate measures. It's time to let go of some books.

Now I've read most of the books I own. But there are some that I bought years ago and never got around to reading them--like "The Complete Tales and Parables of Franz Kafka," which I got waaaay back when I was a college freshman and taking up philosophy classes. But Kafka I'd keep because, hey, it's Kafka. But there are really some books which I even forgot I had. Or I read a couple of stories or essays and then stopped. Then there are those I read once and never again. And I can't see myself reading them again, except perhaps under the pain of death.

So I started weeding all these books out of my piles and came up with a selection that came up to my waist. Some of the casualties are young adult books, remnants of my college thesis. There's a bunch of old Granta issues I'm sure I wouldn't really miss. Then there's the stack of Sweet Valley Twins--one of the first books I ever really paid for with my own allowance. I'm quite hesitant to let them go, but something has really got to give.

Then there are a couple of books which I've decided to let go, but now I'm rethinking them. There's Summer of Love by Helen Cross. I first heard about the movie, which I most likely saw in a film festival, got curious and bought the book when I saw it. It's a young adult novel: two girls from opposite side of the tracks form a friendship that sometimes blurred into affection. By now I've forgotten exactly why I liked the film and the movie.

Amazon reader Maruta helps jolt my memory: "To begin with the good bits, Helen Cross's strory of Mona, a 15 yo girl in the adolescent turmoil equivalent of the perfect storm (her mom's just died, her sister's turned into a smugg adult, and the whole world is about to crumble and burn - it's 1984, the miners are striking, Yorkshire is impossibly hot, a local girl's gone missing, possibly victim to some predator with an eye for lost teenagers...) is quirky but compelling, it has the energy and sometimes the imperfection of youthful writing.

When she meets Tamsin, she finds a soulmate who has similarly been burnt by life but brings that radical class difference - the carelessness of those who have a very good parachute when they jump in the tumuly of life - that will act like a catalyst for her own addictions, to alocohol, gamble, danger and ultimately violence."

I have a feeling that it was largely the movie that intrigued me. In fact, I have this deep suspicion that I'm vaguely remembering the wrong book and the wrong movie--because the movie I have in mind is from Sweden. And now Nerve Scanner tells us that teenage girls in Sweden like other teenage girls, not boys. Now that story is so remiscent of My Summer of Love had it been set in England. Oh well.

The other book is The Sexual Life of Catherine M, which Melissa Lion over at bookslut tells us is "the memoir of French, art critic Catherine Millet. She was also a connoisseur of the orgy and anonymous sex. The book itself is a detached account of so much of the sex she had. And it’s a lot of sex. The sex is on nearly every single page. Some of it is hot, some of it is uncomfortable, some of it, despite the content, is antiseptic in its cold observation."

Her assessment is right on the money. It's not meant to be erotica, but more like a meditation on the connection between self and body and how it connects with others. So much sex, and you can almost imagine the author shrugging all of it off. But it's really hard to feel that the I herself is invested in the telling of the tale. Or maybe art critics really just consider everything as though it could be observed on a white gallery wall, who knows?

But casual observers of a bookshelf won't have that kind of detached reaction. Melissa Lion shares a kind of urban legend that surrounded the book: "I was hired just as The Sexual Life of Catherine M was published and I don’t know who started the legend, but someone, somewhere, suggested that one day a bookseller was wrapping an innocent fiction book and accidentally swapped it out for The Sexual Life of Catherine M. Maybe it never happened, maybe just the threat of it was enough that I became unreasonable paranoid, waking deep in the night worried that somehow this would happen to me." Imagine the horror (or maybe delight, and then disappointment) of the recipient of such a package.

Really, if only these two books didn't cause me an arm and a leg, I'd be quick to give them away. Or perhaps the solution is not to give them away but to sell them. Then again, who would be interested in my pile of books to be discarded?

*Mas okay ang title na yan kesa "Books books books," I think. Who would want to read a blog entry solely about books except geeks. Hehehe.

Tuesday, June 24

Manila in Black and White

Found two videos of pre-World War II Manila in YouTube. The first is Manila, Queen of the Pacific. (Andre dela Varre, The Screen Traveler) In 1938, according to the voiceover, Manila had become a modern American city, although traces of its past as a "sleepy Spanish town" was still there--in the narrow alleys, the karitela, the horse-drawn buses, the marketplace where women tested the strength of baskets. It divided Manila into three areas: the modern city with its drug stores (not "chemists' shops") and airconditioned shopping areas in downtown Escolta, Tondo, where the masses lived, and the Intramuros, a great example of the medieval walled cities.

It was quite amazing to see the Manila that a lot of us never knew. There was a tranvia, where we only have the Light Rail Transit. Jones Bridge had been completed just a couple of years back. It showed a lot of promise: see the wide tree lined boulevard standing on reclaimed land facing Manila Bay. It was said that had Daniel Burnham's plan for the city had been completed, it would have been like Washington DC. But in fact, the waterfront road was the only thing in the plan that was accomplished. The Manila that we know now suffers from poor or lack of urban planning. I wonder what it would be like had the plan been put in place, and two, had the city not been destroyed in the Liberation in 1945.

The other interesting video is "Castillian Memoirs: 1930s" It said that the traffic in downtown Manila was insufferable. Just imagine what the narrator would say now. The most bizarre scene was the one with the rotating door for "foundlings" in the the Hospicio de San Jose. A man put a baby in the slot in what seemed like half a drum. "Want to abandon your baby? Drop it in the chute! Works every time!" But then, there was also the scene of performing prisoners in the Bilibid. The Philippines had the largest penal, er, holding area, at the time. And in the afternoons, guests may come in and watch the performances. In those days, this meant military maneuvers and the marching band. Suddenly it seems like the Cebu prisoners dancing "Thriller" is but a logical development.

Finally, found some links about the Liberation of Manila between February to March 1945. Very harrowing accounts of what happened then. If you have the stomach for it, watch the video here.

All three videos are in black and white. The thing with B/W is that the distinction between them is never too stark. Instead what we see is the different shades of gray playing off against gradations of light.

Sunday, June 8

Great Expectations, Ten Years Later

Chanced upon a heavily sanitized screening of Great Expectations on TV last night. When it came out a decade ago, not too many critics were crazy about Alfonso Cuaron's adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel of transformation. There's just too much baggage: the original novel and the 1946 film version by David Lean. But seeing this again ten years later makes me appreciate how Cuaron was able to successfully take the themes of Dicken's novel and make it work in the present day context. There's the amazement of viewing a richly visualized film (always, there is green), the score by Patrick Doyle that enhanced the storytelling (and Life in Mono!), and the artwork by Francisco Clemente that helped crystallize the desires of Finn and put it in display for all the world to see.

Cuaron did fine work with adapting A Little Princess (1995) and he was praised for the visual texture of his work. A lot of the reviews of GE: 1998 also focused on the lushness of the scenery--Paradiso Perduto was literally an abandoned Eden with its ivy and weeds taking over Miss Havisham's doomed wedding party, the first person point of view of the novel was retained in the voice over--later revealed to be done for free by David Mamet, as long as it was kept a secret--and the fluid camera work that mirrored Finn's point of view that largely cast Estella as the object of his desire.

But this was just his second American film, three years before he did Y Tu Mama Tambien and much later than his Harry Potter venture. For a lot of critics, the shadow of the David Lean version loomed large over this Mexican director. It's only later that it becomes evident that Cuaron did much more than a film version of the novel and the 1946 film, he transformed that world and took the same desires and values and put it in a more contemporary setting. Cuaron took Pip away from England's marshes and brought him to a Florida fishing town, and from uncouth and common orphan to London gentleman, Finn sought out success as an artist in late 20th century New York.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times considers the switch to the American setting to be "adventurous and even apt." She calls Cuaron a great visual stylist, "capable of wonder even when its wilder ideas misfire."

Salon's Charles Taylor was quick to note that Dickens is accessible to a lot of people of different ages. Although we first see Finn as a child, what Cuaron emphasizes is the sensuousness and sexuality brewing underneath and brings this desire to the surface. In that first encounter at the Paradiso Perduto, when young Estella urges young Finn to drink from the fountain, and later on she herself drinks from the same spout and French kisses him, we can see that this is not just about a desire to go up the social ladder. Finn wants to become a gentleman so that he can stand on common ground with Estella, so that he may deserve him. He thinks this is his destiny, and when things start to go his way (an offer from a mysterious person to foot the bill for a one man show in a New York gallery), he mistakenly takes this to be the universe (and Miss Dinsmoor) urging him to go to "Estella's New York", get the girl and what he deemed to be his rightful place in society.

The key here is that Finn "thinks" this is what this all means. He is an unreliable narrator. In the opening voice over, he declares: "I'm not going to tell the story the way that it happened. I'm going to tell it the way I remember it." That he is a visual artist and we see a lot of his work also clues us in on the workings of his mind. The first time that Finn sketches the young Estella, the camera leads us to see Estella in parts--eyes, lips, nose, mouth. This is later echoed in the New York apartment when the grownup Estella poses for him. She takes off her clothes and asks, "Do you want me to sit or stand?" He replies with a "whatever." He doesn't care, what he sees is the ideal Estella, the curve of her neck, the swell of her breasts, the strands of her pubic hair.

Estella is forever the dream (or the delusion) that Finn is chasing. In "Not Telling the Story the Way It Happened: Alfonso Cuarón's Great Expectations," Michael K. Johnson notes this disconnect in how Finn perhaps refusing to see Estella as she is. Since this is his remembrance of how things happened, we cannot trust him fully even in his depiction of Estella as dream/object of desire. In Finn's remembrance, even Estella expresses distance when talking about herself, like in this dialogue as she leaves him:

FINN. What's it like not to feel anything?

ESTELLA. Suppose there was a little girl. She was taught to fear daylight. One sunny day, you ask her to go outside and play in the sun and she won't. How can you be angry with her?

FINN. I knew that little girl. I saw the light in her eyes. No matter what you say or do, that's still what I see.

ESTELLA. We are who we are. People don't change.

She refers to herself in the third person, in the first person plural, or even the more generic "people." For Estella, and for Finn's vision of Estella, there is no "I."

Even in the film's ending, seven years after the New York incident, Finn goes back to Florida and Paradiso Perduto and finds Estella, he still refuses to let go. Estella stands on the beach, the bright sun obscures her face, but she will always be girl in his paintings, bright eyed and lips parted ever so slightly, the girl in the plane looking down on the forlorn Finn drowning out in the rainy New York streets. And when she says, "Will you ever forgive me?" he replies with "Don't you even know me?" and takes her hand in his. It seems like he's never learned his lesson on "the fantasy and the wealthy." Miss Dinsmoor has already informed him early on, Estella would only break her heart. But the best he could do is to take our hands, place it on his chest and declare, "Do you know what this is? This is my heart, and it is broken."

For me, this adaptation brings Finnegan Bell closer to Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby, who observes the green light representing the object of his desire from across the lake. No matter how bright the suit he wears or how high he jumps in the air, the Other will not notice, will not take heed, but he will not give up. This is a lover in love with sadness, and though we should know better, we also can't do anything but witness with knowing sadness that we know how this will turn out.

What follows is my favorite scene from the movie. It is Finnegan Bell's opening night. His show is sold out, he is now a successful artist in New York. But the present is unraveled by the appearance of a person from his past, Joe, the man who raised him in Florida. Joe is too loud and careless and basically doesn't fit in Finn's new sophisticated environment. When he leaves the gallery, note how Finn and Joe are positioned, up and down, in and out, but the past refuses to disappear from the present.

Saturday, June 7

Story and Structure

Architect Bernard Tschumi best sums up why I love reading film scripts: "because of the conciseness of it, and the fact that you can always break a film down into separate parts: sound without image, text without cinematography."

Story and structure. And he was reading Godard's "Breathless" too. Can't get anything better than that.

Friday, June 6

The Retro Tech Allure of Typewriters

In the last days of the old millenium, I still cranked out class requirements in what was probably 12 point pica, from the portable my mother bought me in high school. One classmate was amazed upon receiving her workshop copy. "How retro," she said.

For me though, it was more a necessity than fashion or aesthetic considerations. I couldn't afford computer rentals and printouts all the time. But the lasting impression of seeing "black words on white paper rolling up in front of my gaze," as writer Frederick Forsyth said, is never lost on me, and in my mind, has always been connected with the act of writing. Also, I tend to type really hard, even on computer keyboards, which is bad, but something that I can't help doing.

In the digital world, one expects typewriters to be almost extinct. Although sales have been declining steadily, I was surprised to learn that there's still a steady base of customers for typewriters. Most of them are "old people," who probably can't get the hang of using computers, and the occasional student who opts to spend on one instead of a laptop.

Somewhere in our house sits that old portable, probably gathering dust and a colony of ants. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, with coins on the back of my hands. In the beginning, you could hear metal clanking on the floor all over the typing room. It was the early '90s, and in the high school I attended, which was big on office and commerce skills, typing upwards of 70 words per minute was a minimum requirement.

Then Windows 95 came and computer classes no longer involved booting the system cold from copies of DOS and Wordstar in 5 inch floppies.

But we still had regular typing classes, and every day, we had drills which focused on two things: speed and accuracy. With speed, we busied ourselves with high word turnouts, with accuracy, we went slower and made sure that there were no erasures or typeovers. It seemed like an archaic skill to learn on the brink of the digital revolution and the new millenium. But we learned this along with stenography, salesmanship and bookkeeping. Later on, the school would change the names of these skills to reflect the present/future situation: office management, entrepreneurship, and accounting.

It's old fashioned now, but when it was new, the ability to type really fast and accurate was revolutionary, specially for women. The females first ventured into the work space at the end of the 19th century as typists or secretaries. According to Neil Hallows of the BBC, "[i]t was a limited emancipation. The new employees (often called "type-writers" themselves) were accused of stealing jobs from men, depressing wages and sexually tempting the boss, and their chance of career progression was often nil. But for women to have any job outside the home was revolutionary."

So the women's liberation movement got their big push with typewriters, whose "retro" appeal does not end with seeing words come up on paper. More importantly, in a time when computers are plugged to the internet, productivity becomes more difficult. Specially for writers with deadlines and then faced with websites with little links you clink. Before you know the day has passed and you have watched more videos of lizards eating fruits of the pandan tree than you care to acknowledge.

The distraction afforded by the internet paved the way for software to make your computer seem like a typewriter, or at least, a very early version of the unwired computer with the black screen and green blinking cursor. As one commenter said:
A laptop for a writer is like a typewriter with a TV, stereo and library attached--and thousands upon thousands of channels, songs, articles to choose from: laptops anywhere near wifi are an endless procrastination device, an infernal tool of distraction for undisciplined souls such as myself. Indeed, I've even thought of disabling the internet on my laptop just so I won't be distracted.

Although a laptop's often purchased to be used chiefly as a word processor, one all too easily whiles away the hours on websites like this one--when one should be writing. A typewriter, on the other hand, offers no such distractions. It's just there, it has no cut/paste/erase, no itunes or internet, and one must face the bloody thing on its own terms. There are far fewer excuses with a typewriter. Far, far fewer.
It makes me want to hunt up that old portable. It might be difficult now to hunt for the two tone ribbon (black and red) and some wipeout, but hearing the clacking of keys and seeing words on paper is suddenly alluring and can well prove to be the cure to internet distraction.


New books

New books
Originally uploaded by xkg
Lookie at the my new purchases! Haven't bought this many books since the start of the year, effectively repealing my self-imposed book ban. But it's not so bad, as almost all of them are from Booksale. The most expensive of the bunch, Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay, came from Powerbooks, and that's already after 60% off.

A lot of the new acquisitions are scriptbooks (4/13): There is the aforementioned Brokeback Mountain, which contains the original Annie Proulx short story which first appeared in The New Yorker, with essays on the transition from page to screen by Proulx and the screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. All of them are united in the idea that (1) The film did not murder the original material and in fact added to it, (2) short stories, not novels, make for better adaptation materials.

Also got John Hodge's screenplay for The Beach, based on the novel by Alex Garland, Andrew Niccol's script for The Truman Show, and the script for I Heart Huckabees, which I haven't seen yet but will read anyway.

There seems to be a lot of script books floating in Booksale stores. I wasn't able to get the triptych by Mike Figgis. Of the three, only Leaving Las Vegas was familiar to me. But still, I have ended up with a lot of books to read.

Also got books about writing: Writing Past Dark by Bonnie Friedman, The Practical Writer by Therese Eiben and Mary Gannon of Poets & Writers Magazine, and The Elements of Fiction Writing: Plot from the Writer's Digest Books.

Trevor Corson's The Secret Life of Lobsters is the lone nonfiction book not related to the craft of writing. I was hoping to find a copy of David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster. But hey, this is still about lobsters.

And the last bunch of books are all fiction. Two issues of Story Magazine (Winter 1997 and Spring 1999) cost me Php25 combined. Also got Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding and Bharati Mukherjee's The Middleman and other stories. Then there's Murder on the Menu edited by Peter Haining. This last one contains crime stories by Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Agatha Christie, P.D. James and even Roald Dahl. Enlisted myself in the crime fiction writing class this term, so this will form part of my reading list.

All told, the thirteen books unloaded me of Php800. Not too bad. But then again, will probably impose the book ban again and not buy anything until I've read most of them.

Wednesday, June 4

Carried Away

In the official website, I was able to confirm my suspicion that Carrie upgraded her laptop. You can now even browse her Macbook Pro Powerbook. The fun part is that if you were able to answer the questions the girls and Mr. Big will throw at you during chat, you get to unlock Carrie's hard drive. (Sounds a bit pornographic, but not really. Just geeky stuff.) Carrie Bradshaw even sent me an e-mail thanking me for "impersonating" her during the chats. Neat.

EDIT: Gadgenista argues that since Carrie's laptop doesn't use the Magsafe Adapter and does not have an iSight, it must be a G4, and therefore a Powerbook. But the website does say that Carrie is using a Macbook Pro. Oh well. The above photo was swiped from Gadgenista.

Saturday, May 31

Mostly Nothing Happens

"But mostly nothing happens, except in the sense that novelists and short-story writers understand. For them moving a character from not knowing that he’s unhappy to sort of acknowledging it qualifies as a pretty momentous event."

This comes from a New York Times article about the film "Smart People," which is about a depressed professor of literature who has an affair with a former student (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) and lives with his precocious daughter (played by Ellen Page of 'Juno' fame), a good for nothing brother. It was written by Mark Jude Poirier, a fiction writer who now has to reluctantly call himself a "professional screenwriter."

I haven't really seen the movie. Just found the review because I clicked the links related to the reviews of the Sex and the City movie. Apparently, the "depressed academic" is a character that has surfaced in American film in the last few years, with the bar set high by Michael Douglas' portrayal of Gordon Tripp in Wonder Boys and Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale. I saw both of these films and they both happen to feature frustrated academics-slash-writers. If these are the models, then maybe Smart People isn't too far off.

But what really got my attention is Poirier's shift from fiction writing to screenwriting, where generally, things have to happen. The article says that Hollywood had always wooed the big name literary writers--Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Truman Capote--but all these writers just go away puzzled. Hollywood asks them to write stories where a lot of things happen. But what about the epiphany? Epiphanies can be so subtle, if you wink you'll miss it. Poirier is from this school of writing: the only visible change is that the main character now recognizes that he *is* depressed, but acknowledging it doesn't make it any easier. No big transformations, no miracle happy endings.

What the article also makes known is that there really aren't too many fiction writers who can hack the writing of screenplays. Oh there's Larry McMurtry (whose script to Brokeback Mountain I have yet to finish reading), but there's just so few of them. Playwrights have a better batting average. So if the fictionists are having a hard time transitioning to the big screen, what about the reverse: do screenwriters make for successful fiction writers?

Saturday, May 17

But We Need the Eggs

This morning I chanced upon half of Woody Allen's Annie Hall on MGM. One of my favorite scenes there is the one leading to the break up. There's a split screen and we see Annie and Alvy in their respective therapists' offices. Annie is guilty that she's doing well with treatments which Alvy is paying for, and Alvy is stuck still with his own neuroses. The therapists ask them how their sex life is. They're both right on the count: three times a week. For Alvy, that's dismal, for Annie, that's frequent and more than enough. Later, in the plane from California going back to New York, we hear them thinking again. The relationship isn't going very well. Perhaps it would be better if they break up. Alvy agrees. A relationship is a shark, he says. It should keep on going forward. What they have in their hands is a dead shark. So they break up and it's only later, while making a huge stink with the lobsters with the new woman he's dating, that Alvy realizes his mistake. This new woman doesn't see what the fuss is about the lobsters. He gets on a plane and tries to convince Annie to get back together. On a health food cafe in an LA sidewalk, they finally break up.

Last week, also caught the parts of Manhattan. Manhattan starts with the voice of the Woody Allenesque character listing down all the things he loves about the city. What I like about that movie again has something to do with relationships. Isaac breaks up with his 17 year old girlfriend because he's fallen in love with his best friend's mistress. He tells her that she's way too young, and she should pursue acting studies in London. When the mistress goes back to the best friend, he suddenly misses Mariel Hemingway. He runs down New York's streets. But when he arrives outside her apartment building, she's already dressed up and headed to the airport. Isaac's profession of love comes too late, because she's been hurt, and she's now made up her mind to go to London. But if Isaac can wait six months...

I like it that both movies don't force on a reconciliation scene. Well, in Annie Hall, the Woody Allen character writes a play with characters who suspiciously re-enact the scene in the health food store, and instead of walking away from each other, they kiss and make up. But he does say that the things he can't control in life, he can at least correct in his writings. In both Allen movies, the (former) lovers either end up as friends, or they still move in the same small circles that they occupy. In Annie Hall, Allen says that he realizes that the relationships were wonderful while they lasted. As he stands in the street corner after having coffee with Annie, he tells us an anecdote about the man whose brother thinks he's a chicken. The doctor says, Well, why don't you turn him in so we can treat him? The man says, I would have done that, except I need the eggs. It's the worst possible case of can't leave with (it/you), can't leave without (it/you).

Which brings me to the Spanish film I watched this afternoon, Los Peores Anos de Nuestra Vida, which roughly translates to The Worst Years of Our Lives. It starts with Alberto's voice speaking into a recorder, starting chapter 1 of his novel. It reminds me so much of Manhattan's opening scenes as well. Also, Alberto is the goofy, not quite guapo young man with a more handsome brother and he does remind me a lot of a younger Woody Allen. Alberto's brother Roberto ends up with all the girls, even the ones which Alberto likes. So it comes to no surprise when both brothers fall for Maria, the mistress of a sculptor. Alberto wails and whines that he can't understand women, and though they find him funny, they wouldn't sleep with him. So Roberto gives his brother a hand. Together they plot the break up of Santiago and Maria. They send an anonymous letter to Santiago's wife. Maria gets depressed after the confrontation with Santiago's wife, who tells her empathically that Santiago stays with him, and it's really all for Maria's own good. Maria and Roberto share a kiss, but since Roberto is also busy with his own affair with an older woman, he decides to give his brother and Maria a push in the relationship direction. Then things go wrong, and there are Grand Romantic Gestures in the last few scenes involving a train ticket to Paris and sibling generosity, which I don't quite buy. I mean, real life doesn't afford us any quick turn arounds.

But this isn't a movie concerned with real life. One scene has Alberto watching a romantic movie, and he winces, guys like him don't get the girls in real life, so cinema is just a big piece of crap. The actors get disturbed and even the director turns to Alberto. He is trying to direct a movie, not aiming for cinema verite like De Sica before he got rich. So I guess that prepares us for the kind of ending The Worst Years of Our Lives has.

Which also reminds me that since Woody Allen has probably exhausted all the possible locations in New York, he has turned his gaze on Europe. His next movie is set in Spain, starring Scarlett Johanson, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem. Saw the trailer of Vicky Cristina Barcelona in YouTube quite recently.

Monday, May 5

Virtual Age

Answered some questions thrown at me by the Life Expectancy Calculator. If you don't smoke, up a few years. Don't drink much, good. Use seatbelt only on occasion, bad. It's actually amazing to see your virtual age rise and dip with each question answered. I went as low as 19. After 34 questions, turns out my Virtual Age is 22.5 (Hear that belly? Ha, be gone you!). If the average life expectancy for Asians is around 74 years, I can expect to live another 5.5 years beyond that. I have some 18,800 more days to walk this earth, and maybe more if I shape up some.

The Virtual Age Calculator may be downloaded as a stand alone PC program. Sadly, it's a Windows program and not available for Mac.


The incredible life of elevators

The New Yorker's Nick Paumgarten details the incredible life of elevators and those who make and ride them. The frame story tells about this man who took the longest ever cigarette break--41 hours, most of which he spent inside a stalled elevator. He asked for a beer when he finally got out, and then sued the building and settled for an undisclosed amount. What he didn't bargain for was that the ensuing trauma and law suit left him unemployed and with occasional media attention.

Elsewhere in the essay is a delineation into the kind of research that goes into building elevators. There is a minimum allowable space that a human must have, 2.3 square feet. Women can tolerate much less space, say 1.5 sq.ft, provided that it's mostly women. If men get in the picture, women cross their arms in an attempt to get more space. But the figures are much lower in Asia, where 25 Chinese people will "willingly" squeeze in an elevator meant for 11.

I'd hate to be trapped in an elevator, unless I'm Jeanne Moreau and sharing the car with me is Maurice Ronet in Ascenseur pour l'echafaud, aka Elevator to the Gallows, last viewed perhaps a decade ago in the French Spring film fest.

Sunday, May 4

At the Balay Negrense

This is a photo of Chaka Doll swiped from madmilkmargie, sitting eeriely in one of the rooms of the Balay Negrense, which we visited during our cultural tour of Negros last week. It was raining and the floor boards creaked a bit every time. What's amazing is that the floor boards are all of one piece from front to back of the house, so imagine how huge a tree that was. What's creepy is that this doll, along with some others in what used to be the children's room, stared at us with what seemed like a gash in her forehead. Creepy.

Later, we visited The Ruins, a huge stone house in the middle of the cane fields with the interiors gutted but still absolutely magnificent. According to the caretakers, the guerillas and the owners thought it best to burn the thing so that the Japanese wouldn't use it as their garrison. It took two whole days for the interiors made of hardwood to burn down completely. On one side of the house was a huge window, which used to have floor to ceiling glass, in a room that was specifically for watching the sun go down or up, I forget now.

The descendants of the owners had it fixed up a bit, when they found out that the kids would go there in the witching hours bearing drinks and waiting for ghosts to appear. Now there are little alcoves where you can sit down and eat little sandwiches and drink Cervesa Negra. Imagine living in that house, with ceilings so high and you can twirl around all you like without bumping into any of the solid concrete columns. Run to the veranda or the fountain in the wide front yard. Magnificence, right there.

Friday, May 2

Books Backlog

The book shown above is what broke my self-imposed book purchase ban. I spent an almost monastic week in Bacolod last week. There was very little opportunity to go out--partly because we were staying inside the farthest end of the campus and going out was a chore. When we did have the chance to go out, it was for our various vices--mobile phone loads, cigarettes (not me though), etc. The panelists did take us out for the group discussions. Once we went to Calea, which I heard had great cakes and pastries, although we ended up eating pasta and sandwiches. We were brought to SM Bacolod twice, where we ate bachoy, and we went to the supermarket to gaze at the different kinds of fish for sale. Why we did that, we don't know.

On our second venture to SM, we decided to check out all the book places. The Booksale there had odd price listings--Php67, Php107. Cheaper than Manila prices--movie tickets were Php70 and Forbidden Kingdom was showing. National Bookstore had a small and paltry selection. I got the book shown above though. This copy of Feminist Locations was brand new and still wrapped in clingy plastic. The tag said Php150. I approached the customer service counter to inquire if the price on the tag was indeed correct. When the cashier ran it through their laser checker, the monitor showed it to be worth P72.50. "I'm taking it," I said. Saan ka pa makakakuha ng theory book na worth $25 sa Amazon at heto, wala pa siyang $2? We went back to the campus after this. When asked what we were able to find in SM, the guys just grumbled. I was the only one who got a book, and at a drastically reduced price at that.

Of course, my good intentions were to break it open and read it for my overdue and now lapsed incomplete paper for the gender studies class. I still hope to read it this summer though.

Sunday, April 27

Best Cult Books

I was recently asked what my favorite book was. The question was actually addressed to another fellow sitting on the table, but all of us eventually chimed in. What does it mean, "favorite book"? There are books that one read as a 17 year old and it forever stays with you. Someone owned up to liking Ayn Rand. Another adored Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller.

The key here, as The Guardian says, is that the sort of book you read early on defines you and takes you for a life turn. It's not just a "favorite" book--it's a "cult" book--the sort "often found in the pockets of murderers; books that you take very seriously when you are 17; books whose readers can be identified to all with the formula ' whacko.'" Further down, the article lists down the common themes running through or found in these books: drugs, sex, travel--all the things our parents probably didn't want us to get our hands on at that particular moment.

Browsing the list of books, I saw two which I really did read at seventeen: Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. Albert Camus' The Stranger. Then there is J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, of course. But that didn't quite hit me as all the teenage girls going crazy or slashing wrists kind of books. Or the "this is the secret to the meaning of life" book. Not in the list is Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World, beloved of all freshmen who had to take a philosophy class. In the list is The Prophet, which to this day I still can't stand or finish, even after one of the professors in university assigned it as required reading in class.

Thursday, April 17

Abandon the Old in Tokyo

Abandon the Old in Tokyo has eight stories: most of them about working class guys in postwar Japan. There's a factory worker, garbage collector, window washer. In the title story, a young man cooks and washes for his mother, who reminds him without fail that in her youth, she worked really hard to provide for him. There's a flashback that shows the boy accidentally stumbling into his mother and her "clients." And now, in her old age, she thinks she's worked too hard. But a young man can only take the stench of pee-soaked blankets for so long. The young woman she's dating is excited to visit and spend time with him in his apartment. Japan is known for having long life spans and for families taking care of their own elderly, but two decades after World War II, a young man decides to rent an apartment in the outskirts of the city and move his invalid mother there. He must choose: mother or his own woman? Is he doing the right thing? Will it be too late?

In the introduction, Adrian Tomine claims that Yoshihiro Tatsumi predated the naturalist style of recent (say since the '80s) North American comic book artists. I'm not really a big manga fan, but in reading this book, I'm more likely to agree with Tomine. Yoshihiro Tatsumi has more in common with Harvey Pekar or R. Crumb than most of the manga I've read. It has simple enough narratives which capture a day (or days) in the life of someone, and then fades away after an emotional moment. The moments are not big either. When the lonely manga artist was caught drawing graffitti in a public restroom, the look on his face reminded me of Julio Madiaga in the final scene in Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag. It's desperation pushed against the walls. More Raymond Carver than Ranma or Fruits Basket.

I enjoyed reading the stories. Found this in the big Borders store. I finished it in one sitting, even with a headache. Also, I found out that this was the second in a series--the first being Push Man and Other Stories, which I'll be delighted to read someday. I wish we'd get these titles here in Manila.

Books and Dating

Rachel Donadio writes about love and dating among bibliophiles, or how the books you read may make or break a relationship:
Some years ago, I was awakened early one morning by a phone call from a friend. She had just broken up with a boyfriend she still loved and was desperate to justify her decision. “Can you believe it!” she shouted into the phone. “He hadn’t even heard of Pushkin!”

We’ve all been there. Or some of us have. Anyone who cares about books has at some point confronted the Pushkin problem: when a missed — or misguided — literary reference makes it chillingly clear that a romance is going nowhere fast.
Donadio later makes the case that literary tastes may be a gender thing: "Brainy women are probably more sensitive to literary deal breakers than are brainy men. (Rare is the guy who’d throw a pretty girl out of bed for revealing her imperfect taste in books.) After all, women read more, especially when it comes to fiction." I definitely could not stand if all someone read was maybe Zig Zeglar or Who Moved My Cheese?--no offense meant, but that's just not my thing. It won't be the total deal breaker. There will be other things. But I also like Ariel Levy's idea of "compartmentalization": that compatibility in reading taste is a luxury; and that the goal of a relationship, according to her, is “to find somebody where your perversions match and who you can stand.”


NOTE: This post was written like three weeks ago or so. Just posting it now.

Friday, March 21

Professors Strike Back

Stephanie Rosenbloom writes in The New York Times that professors are now using the web, either via social networking sites, blogs or personal webpages, to reveal information about themselves in the hopes of "becoming more human" in the eyes of students. And there's even a show on mtvu called "Professors Strike Back," which gives the maligned professors to refute the comments in RateMyProfessors.com.

The show has become more popular than the music premieres on that channel. Which only goes to show that for a lot of students, the thought that professors have lives beyond the classroom is almost unthinkable. Sam Gosling, psychologist and associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, narrated an anecdote where a female student saw him in the street near the campus and looked absolutely horrified. "Like, ‘Wait a minute, you have a life?’ The idea that I would continue to exist — it was sort of a violation of her expectations.” Gosling goes further to say that students today think professors are not doing their jobs unless they convey information in zany, interactive ways.

Teaching has lost some of its god-on-the-podium status. To teach these days means also means to entertain. It's such a taxing demand, to relay information and to make like a talk show host at the same time. What matters is the ability to teach. But students seem to be under the impression that learning is like being part of a talk show audience. "Here we are now, entertain us," and if you fail to do so, you get comments on evaluations like, "Bring a pillow."I tend to agree with the article that this is an unfortunate trend, this need to know that your professor likes Project Runway or has climbed the rockface in Galera. Some are of the opinion that knowing these little things make for a more comfortable learning experience. Whether the "humanization" of professors come in the form of dishing out jokes or crazy anecdotes along the lines of "I have a life, too, you know" or posting more of the same in blogs or social networking sites, this need for transparency seems doubly unneccessary for me.

And yet, I'm posting this on my blog. So take everything with a grain of salt.

Monday, March 17

Why We Write

Damon Lindelof, co-creator and executive producer of the TV series "Lost", tells us why he writes:
I write because I can’t help but make things up.

I write because I love to tell stories.

I write because my imagination compels me to do so.

I write because if I didn’t, I’d be branded a pathological liar.

Oh, and also because I’m still trying to make my dead father proud of me.

But that’s none of your goddamn business.
It's a freaking good story. Of course. We all write for the drama. This convinces me to finally break out that DVD of Lost I've had on my shelf for like 2 years already. But there's still a lot of things to do. So maybe I'll sneak in the viewing in between checking and writing my own papers.

There's also Bill Lawrence, creator of "Scrubs" and co-creator of "Spin City," who tells us he writes because he is "full of shit," and that writing is primarily a game of "truth/lie/exaggeration" and then you get paid for it. Not a bad way of earning a living. But, of course, this only works if you do film & tv work, and only if you don't get screwed up badly. Otherwise, all other kinds of writing pay minimal to nil amounts of money. Doesn't sound too encouraging noh?

Why We Write features essays on the topic by writers who work in the television and movie industries. Also found other "why we write" essays on the net. Here's the one by George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm.


EDIT: One of the comments in the Why We Write blog pointed to this news article which seems to have inspired Lindelof's story.

Thursday, March 13

Hello Kitty is a drug dealer

Sort of. A Colombian drug lord e-mailed his minions with his directions coded in Hello Kitty images. But the police wised up and were able to decode them. Authorities say that this kind of message transmission (not necessarily Hello Kitty though) were used by the Al-Qaeda to prepare for the 9-11 attacks.

According to the report, suspected drug lord Juan Carlos Abadia "apparently picked Hello Kitty as his courier because his wife was a big fan of the Japanese icon -- she had even decorated one of her rooms in a Brazilian house with Hello Kitty-themed chairs, watches and wallpaper."

Maybe Abadia was living in Hello Kitty hell and this is way to get back at his wife. Hehehe.

Wednesday, March 12

Sedaris and Kureishi

The transport strike is ostensibly over--at least for today. There are people stranded in the streets.

But what I'm more concerned of is that classes have been suspended--and we lose one very crucial day in the tailend of the academic year. The last day of classes is Tuesday next week, after that is the mandatory break that comes with the remembrance of the Holy Week. Then students have to come back for exams and the submission of papers. Before we can do that, there's still a few things to discuss.

Today we were supposed to take up an essay by David Sedaris, "Remembering My Childhood in the Continent of Africa." Instead of doing it in class, we'll do an online discussion. To be supplemented by a live, in class one when we see each other later this week. I left my books in my office in the university, but that doesn't stop me from reading up on the author and the text. Time Magazine has ten questions for Sedaris. Sedaris writes a lot about his childhood and his family, and Time asks him whether his family opposes being written about. He says quite the contrary--they like appearing in his stories.

Tell that to Hanif Kureishi's sister, who told his brother through an interview with The Independent to "keep [her] out of his fiction."

Sunday, March 2


Outlaws 2
Originally uploaded by xkg

Received e-mail from editor Sarge Lacuesta that my short story "Outlaws" came out in the Philippines Free Press this week. Grab a copy of the 23 February 2008 issue, the one with Jun Lozada on the cover.


Bookride.com notes that a copy of the first US edition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude goes for a minimum of $500. Solitude also consistently appears in every must-read list of books. When I get visitors in my office, they instantly check my shelves and get disappointed not to find a copy there. Solitude is also almost single-handedly credited for turning on the spotlight on Latin American literature, or particularly creating the brand of Latin Am. lit known as "Magic Realism."

However, Jonathan Bate of the Sunday Telegraph notes that Solitude may as well be one of the most overrated books ever:
The book is so in love with its own cleverness that it is profoundly unreadable. It is generally credited with inaugurating the genre of "magic realism" novels which combine the matter-of-fact narrative style of conventional realistic fiction with fantastic nonsense such as levitation and alchemy. García Márquez is at his most characteristic when a woman ascends to heaven whilst hanging her washing out on the line. Other ingredients of magic realism include gypsies, tarts with hearts, dwarves, tricksters and a cast so large and confusing that you need a family tree to keep track of the plot. Márquez and his followers are sophisticated urban intellectuals who feign reverence for the simple wisdom of peasants. Myth, fairytale and folklore are wonderful things in themselves, but it is preposterous to imagine that mingling them with domestic mundanity will somehow puncture the bourgeois complacency of our time.
He goes on to tell the readers that Solitude opened the territory for Salman Rushdie and Angela Carter and the intentionally epic-scale storytelling that they are noted for.

So is Solitude really overrated?

Wednesday, February 20

Herbal Hodgepodge

Apartment Therapy's Re-Nest section shows us how to set up an indoor herb garden.

I've been hunting for a good pot of sweet basil, but all I've found are wilted ones in the corners of supermarkets. Once found a healthy pot in Market Market's garden section, but the stall owner wasn't there so had to let it go. Basil with tomatoes and some olive oil and pasta is sweet sweet heaven. And I'd put in a bunch of rosemary too. Rosemary is good with chicken. Still hoping to find some one of these days.

Found via Lifehacker. Their version seems more affordable and simpler.

Sunday, February 17

Basil seeds

Originally uploaded by xkg
We seriously had no idea what this drink was when we picked it off the menu of a Thai restaurant. We went to Ikea on a Sunday afternoon, and of course the cafe was full of screaming children and their parents. Our solution was to hike off to the nearest mall--plenty of those to choose from. We were hungry and just wanted to eat.

When this drink arrived, A and I were curious what the floating dark bits were. They were gelatinous but had a crunch to it. I thought at first they were dragonfruit seeds. We just drank all of it without a thought and went back to the monster's lair.

Today, just found out that those tiny bits were actually Thai basil seeds, and were frequently used in drinks especially in South Asia. In some places it's called falooda.

Other websites refer to it as nam manglak.

Although I have to say that the one we had is closer to falooda instead of nam manglak. Pretty interesting drink though. Makes me think of tadpoles.

Thursday, February 14

Nom nom nom

Nom nom nom
Originally uploaded by xkg
Valentines? What's that?

My salt and pepper shaker set
gets all the action these days. Hahaha.

Monday, February 11

tina winnie

tina winnie
Originally uploaded by xkg

Speaking of lolas, I just realized that Tina Turner reminds me so much of Mareng Winnie Monsod of "Debate" fame. It must be the fierceness common to both women. Saka yung neck motions. They could have been sisters.

Bee and Tee

Most of the pre-Grammys press centered on whether Amy Winehouse would get a visa in time for the big night. She didn't. But she did win five of the six Grammys she was nominated for and everyone went 'huh?' and scratched their heads when Album of the Year went to Herb Hancock's tribute to Joni Mitchell.

But for me, the real highlight of the event was the Beyonce and Tina Turner number. I liked the intro, where Beyonce with her chair and two backup dancers rattled off all the female singers who influenced her from Donna Summer to Whitney Houston. You can watch the awesome intro routine here. (Note: This clip does not include Cher's intro to Beyonce, which you can see in the full vid.)

But as she said, the biggest momma of them all was Tina Turner.

Of course she had to sing "What's Love Got to Do with It." Then she called "Miss Beyonce" to join her onstage and they did a "nice and rough" version of "Proud Mary." (Roughly at 05:17 of the vid.)

I don't know that many women who are nearly 70 who can still rock it as hard as Tina Turner. She had to get out of a comfortable retirement in Europe for this. She wore a tight silver outfit, too. But if you would look closely at the video, at around 08:28, you can see Lola Tina's face change. It looks like Beyonce stepped on her feet. Ouch! You can see her wincing, and even in the last part of the performance, when they were bowing, Tina Turner was kicking her right foot. It must have hurt. Si Beyonce talaga, di na naawa sa Lola. Ang meaty pa naman niya. Look at those thighs. Hahaha. Buti na lang matibay ang lola.

Invasion of the Killer Jellyfish

Paul Eccleston in the Telegraph UK tells us that jellyfish are born predators. They are [a] "perfect toxin-loaded killing machine, there is no creature on earth that can dispatch a human being so easily or so quickly." If they wrap part of their tentacles around you, you have 180 seconds to live. Jellyfish have four brains, are very competitive, have 24 eyes which ensures 360 degree visibility, and carry more poison than necessary. Plus the damn things are resillient: some farmers in Japan thought of killing the jellyfish by chopping them up. Turned out to be the wrong move to make--the males produced more sperm and females carried more babies. In times of stress, jellyfish make sure that they would survive and procreate more.

We know jellyfish are dangerous, and they've caused bizaare things in the past, like swarming in geothermal plants that caused power supplies to trip all over Luzon. If we manage to stay away from them, then no problem. But overfishing the seas means no food for them, forcing their population to explode (remember, in times of stress, procreate!) and to move inwards. The jellyfish decided that since we've taken their fish, they must follow it ashore. It's all weird but the scientists studied the behavioral patterns of jellyfish, even put tracking devices on them, and there you go. Unless we do something about this, it's bound to cause trouble.

We know that jellyfish hang out in the shallow waters, because it's easier to hunt their prey that way. So to avoid jellyfish attacks, wear red. It's not an absolute deterrent, but the scientists have observed that jellyfish ploughed through black and white colored poles in the water, but completely stayed away from the red ones.

Sunday, February 10

Project Runway

If you watch Project Runway and want to preserve the drama, don't read. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The local cable channels have yet to show Project Runway Season 4 later this month and honestly, I can't wait that long. So started trolling the net for episodes since last week and was lucky enough to watch all the episodes from parselforce in YouTube.

Just finished watching episode 10, where Ricky finally gets the boot. He really should have been kicked out way before. And the surprise is that he doesn't even tear up now that it's needed. Oh well.

New York Fashion Week is all but over, and the spoilers are starting to trickle in on the net.Traditionally, three designers show at Bryant Park. Last season, they had four. I think there's more than that this season. I'm really curious what PR has in store. But with the sneak peeks floating around, there is no cohesion in those collections. Seriously. And to think that early in the season, the judges and Tim Gunn were confident that this batch is the most talented yet. I'm starting to think that maybe they should not have kicked out Victorya Hong who, by the way, had her own show at Bryant Park. Gah.

Sunday, January 13

Anthony Bourdain

The Onion's A.V. Club interviews Anthony Bourdain, 'bad boy' chef and host of No Reservations, which I follow on Discovery's Travel and Living channel.

Bourdain recently became a father for the first time, and he's trying to squeeze in family time by bringing his daughter to "low impact" shoots. He shot to fame after the publication of his autobiography Kitchen Confidential, which in a way contributed to the rise of the rockstar status of celebrity chefs.

He also says that he's wary of chefs (or writers) who have a band on the side. I instantly thought of Jamie Oliver, who has a band who can never escape his popularity and would forever be reduced to providing the theme music for his shows. Oh well.

Was also pleasantly surprised that he writes fiction, mostly detective novels. When asked which he prefers writing, he admits that writing nonfiction is way easier for him:
Fiction's hard. I do it because it's therapy. I spend a lot of time writing about myself, talking about myself and what happens to me. Me, me, me. Fiction is a nice escape from that. You can also be a lot more truthful about a lot of things. Things I can't say in non-fiction, I can say in fiction. But there's that damn plot thing. I really resent plot. I like creating characters and environments.
His next writing project is about "It's about a former '80s "it" boy writer, who wrote a Bright Lights, Big City type of book, and ends up washed up in the Caribbean. Murder and mayhem ensue." Hmm..must look for that.