Self Knew It Was Only a Matter of Time –

Self knew it was only a matter of time before she heard possibly the two most dreaded words in the vocabulary of Filipino expressions:

Tumaba ka (You’ve gotten fat)

It’s such a great phrase:  indicates concern as well as insult.  So typically PINOY!

Immediately, self jumped up and demanded that the maidservant (Self, stop being so fancy!  OK, just maid then) deliver right to her very feet a weigh scale.  Since Dear Bro was not at home, and the only member of the family present was Ying’s beautiful daughter, Anita, who self is sure would never blab, the other maids gathered around the scale and looked down at the numbers indicating self weight.

“Huh!  That’s not so bad,” said Bet.

After which, the same person who said she was fat delivered to self’s bedroom a tray of fresh fruit.

“Huh,” quoth self.  “Weren’t you the one who just said I was fat?  Why are you bringing this?”

Self just has to say:  fruit in and of itself is probably the healthiest snack one can imagine, but there were also two additional side plates with, how interesting, a bottle of condensada (condensed milk) and a bowl of something white, sugar-y looking.  Filipinos, when will you ever learn:  fruit is only healthy if eaten without condensada or sugar.  Anyhoo, if dearest blog readers don’t believe self, here is a picture (the food is on a tray because it was delivered to her bedroom —  BWAH HA HAA!)

Dear Blog Readers, here is the tray delivered to self's bedroom just a few minutes ago!

Is that not the cutest thing, dear blog readers?

Stay tuned.

Wow! Am Here!

Smoky dark from the air, the city looked.

After we landed, learned that the temperature outside was 82 degrees (at 1 a.m.)

Am exhausted.  But Air China provided its passengers with three hot meals, first class service all the way!  Self kept the airline mag, even though half of it is in Chinese.

The good thing about arriving at 1 am is that:  a) The Customs people are already very sleepy; none of the passengers on my flight had their bags searched; b) There is no traffic.  Absolutely none.  c)  I get to pass by for Mang’s Chicken Inasal on the way to house of Dear Bro.  For two sticks of pork barbecue and one generous scoop of rice wrapped in a banana leaf, and one fruit drink (pineapple) I payed the equivalent of $2.  And to think I just had three hot meals at Air China.

The place was filled with people. I was amazed.  It was like Redwood City at the height of lunch hour.

Then a pair of young women sauntererd in, bright-eyed and nonchalant, acting as if it were 9 in the morning, not 2.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

From Yoly Villanueva-Ong

First, a disclaimer:  though this woman’s hyphenated last name is “Villanueva,” self is not related to this writer.

She found this writer’s column in The Philippine Star of Sept. 11, 2010, one of the newspapers Dearest Mum brought to the Bay Area on her last visit.

Self loves the display of classic Filipino shorthand:  P-Noy for President Noynoy, for example

Second, self finds herself agreeing wholeheartedly with this writer’s opinion!  And realizes for the first time that she is so very very Filipino in her mode of thinking.

Here goes:

Filipinos vent their frustration through humor, the customary and preferred coping mechanism.  Social analysts have identified this only-in-the-Philippines phenomenon as the cause of our high level of tolerance for ineptitude and folly.  They observed that our culture puts a lot of value on saving “face” while our religion teaches us to turn the other cheek and expect our reward or punishment in the afterlife rather than the present.

This unique de-stress strategy has its pluses and minuses.  On the positive side, kneejerk reactions like fraternity-style rumbles and soccer-fan riots are avoided.  Bungling officials are sniped at with wisecracks that don’t wound them lethally as bullets would.  The national blood pressure and hypertension don’t shoot up to fatal heights.

On the negative side, expressing valid observations as witticisms rather than productive criticism lessens their legitimacy, relegating them as “minor” concerns.  Jokes dissipate righteous anger, allowing lapses to remain uncorrected.  The target of the jeer could simply shrug it off, feign ignorance, deny any wrongdoing and hang in there till it blows over.  Rarely do public officials ever leave from shame.  Resignations as atonement for bad judgement or incompetence are unheard of in Philippine politics.  In fact, even when figuratively or literally caught with their pants down, they remain brazen —  the debauched equivalent of mooning their constituencey.  A steel gut and a thick hide are considered must-haves by politicians.

Well put, Ms. Villanueva-Ong.  Very well put, indeed.

Writing: A Lot Like Sports

Why is self thinking such a thought now?

A few weeks ago, during the Stanford/USC football game,  a newscaster quoted one of the Stanford players as telling his teammates:

“You’ve got to give it all you’ve got.  Whatever you hold back is gone forever.”

Stanford won that game, barely.

Give it all you’ve got, self.  Now, now, now.

You have to revise that novel about the maid and find a better ending.

You’ve got to finish the one you started, about the War.  150 pages is not yet a book.

You’ve got to start sending out that new collection.

All tasks that have been making self so tired, just thinking of them.

Writing is a lot like sports, dear blog readers.

Stay tuned.

The New Statesman: Books of the Year (an Abbreviated List)

Books of 2010, recommended by contributors to the British politics & culture magazine, the New Statesman:

  • Recommended by Fatima Bhutto:   Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night, “a courageous and necessary book on Kashmir”
  • Recommended by Lesley Chamberlain:   Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo trilogy, for “absolutely no metaphors, and no gratuitous description of character”
  • Recommended by Amanda Craig:   Ben MacIntyre’s Operation Mincemeat, about “the true story behind the plot to make Hitler believe, by means of papers planted on a corpse, that the Allies were going to invade Greece rather than Sicily”
  • Recommended by Amanda Foreman:   Antony Beevor’s D-Day, “vivid and visceral”
  • Recommended by John Gray:   Frank Dicotter’s Mao’s Great Famine:  the History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958 – 62, “the first study of the famine to be based on the internal archives of the Communist Party of China”
  • Recommended by Olivia Laing:   Under the Sun:  the Letters of Bruce Chatwin, which portrays Chatwin as “a glittering, peripatetic figure, darting around the globe in pursuit of rare objects and experiences … “
  • Recommended by Toby Litt:   Cheever:  A Life, “a sobering read”
  • Recommended by Tom McCarthy:   “Go and take an MA in Comparative 20th Century Literature.”
  • Recommended by Julie Myerson:   Rupert Thomson’s family memoir, This Party’s Got to Stop
  • Recommended by Jonathan Powell:   Andrew Graham-Dixon’s Caravaggio:  A Life Sacred and Profane, about the man who found “time to invent a completely new form of painting,” along with “much whoring, gambling and fighting”
  • Recommended by Leo Robson:   Peter Biskind’s Star:  The Life and Wild Times of Warren Beatty, “a tale of talent thwarted by egomania”
  • Recommended by Dominic Sandbrook:   Tim Pears’s novel Landed, “the story of a bereaved man adrift in modern Britain”
  • Recommended by Sarah Sands:   Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, “a portrait of a marriage, luminously and wittily drawn against a backdrop of modern America”
  • Recommended by Michael Sayeau:   David Shields’s Reality Hunger:  A Manifesto, “a refreshing reopening of the question of what it is that we do, should be doing, when we write fiction … “
  • Recommended by Adam Thirlwell:   the Hungarian novelist Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s Animalinside, translated by Otilie Mulzet, a book that Colm Toibin says, in his preface, “is concerned with limits, with what can happen if language is pushed further than its own decorous rules might suggest”

Really Good Ideas for Christmas

Subscriptions are the best!  Subscriptions, or books.  Subscriptions, books, or writing classes.

Buy someone a subscription to Calyx Journal:  beautiful inside as well as out.  Do women of the world a favor and subscribe

Buy someone a subscription to Women’s Review of Books:  consistently publishes the most interesting book reviews in America:  Self knows whereof she speaks, since she’s been subscribing for decades to the New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker, and writes book reviews herself. Why not check out one of the three short story collections self reviewed for them, not too long ago:  Marilyn Krysl’s Dinner With Osama, Jeanne M. Leiby’s Downriver:  Short Stories, and Joy Lisberger’s Remember Love.

Buy Valerie Trueblood’s new short story collection, Marry or Burn.  Self reviewed her novel, Seven Loves, a few years ago.  The stories in this collection are superb.

Buy Jon Pineda’s collection The Translator’s Diary or his new memoir, just out from University of Nebraska Press.

Buy a copy of Zack Linmark’s collection Primetime Apparitions (and stay tuned for his new novel, Leche, coming 2011) and be transported to the city of self’s heart, Manila.

Buy Luis Francia’s newest book, From Indios Bravos to Filipinos:  A History of the Philippines, because you know you want to know all about it —  how Filipinos got where they are, self means.

Buy Karen Llagas’ Archipelago Dust:  your heart will ache, her words are so true.

Buy Barbara Jane Reyes’ powerful new collection, Diwata.

Buy Karen Tei Yamashita’s I-Hotel, recently short-listed for America’s National Book Award, and lose yourself in the language of one of the fiercest experimentalists of our time.

How about Charles Tan’s Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009?  It was reviewed in io9.  io9, people.  Part of indefatigable blog creator Nick Denton’s far-flung blog empire.

Buy/register someone for an on-line creative writing class.  Self knows it can change lives.  Try UCLA Extension Writers Program.

Speculative Fiction: Before “The Hand”, there was “Lizard”

Frederick Barthelme, self loves you for picking “The Hand” to win the Juked Fiction Prize in 2007.

Before “The Hand” (which Dean Alfar and Nikki Alfar included in Philippine Speculative Fiction, vol. III, and which Anvil published as part of self’s new collection, The Lost Language), there was “Lizard,”  which was part of Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila, published by Calyx in 1991.

Here’s an excerpt:

She saw her mother leaning against a corner of the house, waving a palm-leaf fan slowly back and forth across her face.  Her mother had not seen her.  She was looking down at the ground and seemed to be thinking.  Just at the moment when Wito would have called out to her, she caught sight of something reflected against the white wall of the house.  An unexpected shadow had appeared in profile to her mother’s body.  There was a head, or what Wito assumed was a head, though it looked nothing like her mother’s, and had long, pointed teeth.  When her mother turned her head a little, the shadow moved, too.  Only when Wito had come a little closer did she finally make out what it was —  there, growing out of her mother’s back, was a huge, scaly lizard.

Self wrote this story when she was in the Stanford Creative Writing Program.  Would you believe, the story was driven by homesickness?

A long time ago, self used to know someone named Wito.  Now, no one she knows is called by that name.  Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Oscars 2011: Self Very Anticipatory Already

“Inception” vs “The Social Network”

Most Middle-of-the-Road, Appealing Across All Demographics (Generally) and Therefore Might Win:  “Secretariat”

Hopefully, Best Actress Nominations will include all or some of these:  Annete Bening (for “The Kids Are All Right”), Catherine Keener (“Please Give”), Patricia Clarkson (“Cairo Time”), Diane Lane (“Secretariat”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”), Naomi Watts (“Mother and Child”)

And Best Supporting Actress Nominations will include both or at least one of these:  Sissy Spacek (“Get Low”), Carey Mulligan (“Wall Street 2″),

And hopefully Best Supporting Actor Nominations will include one or more of these:  John Malkovich (“Secretariat”), Bill Murray (“Get Low”).  Zach Galifianakis for something.  And Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception”).  And Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”).  And Jeremy Renner (“The Town”).  And Sam Rockwell (“Conviction”)

Best Harry Potter Ever:  “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1″

Best Picture, Indie version:  “Get Low” vs. “Winter’s Bone”

Most Romantic Movie of the Year:  “Cairo Time”

Most Bitterly Caustic Movie of the Year:  “Due Date”

Most Angry Man Posing as a Funny Man:  Zach Galifianakis

Best Comic Actor of His Generation:  Steve Carell (See “Dinner for Schmucks”!)

Best Naomi Watts movie of the Year:  “Mother and Child”

Most Heartfelt Acting Job:  Hilary Swank in “Conviction”

Best Movie that Self Unfortunatevely Missed Seeing:  the documentary about Joan Rivers, “A Piece of Work”

Movie Self Saw That She Wished She Had Never Seen:  “Skyline”

Self’s Three Most Anticipated Movies:  “Cowboys vs. Aliens”; “True Grit”; and, self cannot tell a lie:  “Narnia:  Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”  “Tron 2″ trailers make her yawn, yawn, yawn.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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An Example of Magical Thinking

Suppose you were to say, “Hmm, I haven’t heard from such and such literary magazine in almost six months!”

You think:  “That’s great!  That means my work has survived at least two rounds!”

The consequence:  You will, very shortly, receive a rejection from aforementioned.

Or perhaps you say, “I will check my submissions on Submishmash!”

And you see several of your stories are tagged “In Progress.”

You think:  “Great!  That means all the work under review has survived at least one reading!”

The consequence:  Every single magazine on Submishmash will reject your work.

How to be successful:  Pretend you never send anything out.  Forget you have written anything.  Forget you are even a writer.

The consequence:  You will be accepted somewhere.  You will be told in no uncertain terms that you are a writer.

This is what happened when you got into the Stanford Creative Writing Program.  Someone (John L’Heureux) told you that you were a writer.

You believed him.  You developed an absolutely unshakable faith in your talent.  This was important:  it enabled you to survive all the long decades of rejection that followed.

Now, you can’t forget, try as you might, that you committed to being a writer.  You stuck a toe into the surf, the surf sucked you in, you were in water that went over your head.

You see the shore behind you, but it’s really too exhausting to try and head back.  You have no choice, now, but to go deeper and deeper into the ocean.

Perhaps you will encounter a whale?

A pod of dolphins?

Let’s not even think about sharks.

No, you will encounter an island.  An island upon which to rest your weary limbs.

Stay tuned.

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