The Never-Ending Siberian Steppe

It is almost New Year’s Eve.   For most of the day, self was kept in quite a state of suspense, wondering whether son’s girlfriend would drive up here, or whether son would end up driving to San Luis Obispo.  Son began to pack his things.  Then Amanda called:  she would drive here.

Now son is busy looking up restaurants in the City.  Self, meanwhile, continues to read Orlando Figes’ Natasha’s Dance:  A Cultural History of Russia.

This is a fascinating book.  Self began reading it after getting back from the Philippines, about 10 days ago.  She read, among other things, about how Tolstoy always imagined himself turning into a peasant, but only for the day:  at night he liked to have a good dinner at home, where he was served by white-gloved servants.

Now she is reading about Chekhov and his fascination with the Siberian steppe.  Figes writes about how “the sheer monotony of the never-ending steppe drove many Russian poets to despair.  Mandelstam called it the ‘watermelon emptiness of Russia’ and Musorgsky, ‘the All-Russian bog.’  At such moments of despair these artists were inclined to view the steppe as a limitation on imagination and creativity.  Gorky thought that the boundless plain had

the poisonous peculiarity of emptying a man, of sucking dry his desires.  The peasant has only to go out past the bounds of the village and look at the emptiness around him to feel in a short time that this emptiness is creeping into his very soul.  Nowhere around can one see the results of creative labour.  The estates of the landowners?  But they are few and inhabited by enemies.  The towns?  But they are far away and not much more cultured.  Round about lie endless plains and in the centre of them, insignificant, tiny man abandoned on this dull earth for penal labour.  And man is filled with the feeling of indifference killing his ability to think, to remember his past, to work out his ideas from experience.

There is, in the steppe, an inducement towards inertia, what Russians call “Oblomovshchina” (“from the idle nobleman in Goncharov’s Oblomov who spends the whole day dreaming and lying on the couch.”)

Figes writes:  “Oblomovshchina came to be regarded as a national disease.  Its symbol was Oblomov’s dressing gown . . .  ”  The literary critic Nikolai Dobroliubov even went so far as to assert that “the most heartfelt striving of all our Oblomovs is their striving for repose in a dressing gown.”

But Chekhov loved this landscape and found it enormously stimulating.

And suddenly, almost miraculously, self is reminded that she is a writer:  a message comes from the editor of the web-zine, The Writing Disorder.  The winter issue, with two stories by self —  “Dust” and “The Three Triangles” (The two could not be more different from each other) —  has launched.  Here’s the link.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Libreria, Cubao X, December 18

Seated: Danton Remoto, Karina Bolasco, and moi, surrounded by exuberant Filipino bloggers!

This is what happiness should feel like, every day!


That book Danton is holding up is self’s, self’s, seeelf’s !!!

She will be back in beloved homeland before dear blog readers can say “tiddly-winks” !!!  Why?  Because she can!  Because she doesn’t start her full-time administrative position until March!  Because she has a very long-suffering husband!  Because the vet said he would take care of Gracie while self was out of the country (Now the vet is self’s new Best Friend!).  Because once is never enough!  Because life is too short!

And, self is so kapal.  She actually e-mailed Pao that she wanted to have a “Take Two.”  (Self, when will you stop being so buwaya?  When will you learn to get off your high horse and —  once again, she digresses!)

Stay tuned.

Careful What You Wish For

“Be careful you don’t idealize Bacolod,” said a niece in Manila.

“Tita, if you had an apartment in Bacolod, I would definitely come and visit you,” said niece G.

“You should be in an ad agency,” son said today Read the rest of this entry »

Gracie Update 2

Son startled self by walking in at 8 p.m. last night.  He’d decided to cancel a dinner with his Bay Area friends.  He didn’t look happy.  Instead, he walked right past self, sitting in the living room, and went to the kitchen.  Poor li’l crit was lying on some towels and pillows in the center of the kitchen floor.  All day, self had agonized over whether to take her to the nearest emergency room.  The vet had been closed for three days for the Christmas holiday.

The last time self took Gracie to the emergency room (for snail bait poisoning), the bill reached nearly $2,000.  The hospital kept her for three days.  But when son walked in the door last night, all of self’s ditherings flew out the window.  She said, “Let’s go now.”  Hubby was already asleep and could not make his feelings known.  So self and son set off for the emergency clinic in San Mateo.

We returned home at midnight.  Self’s jeans were covered with Gracie’s piss.  She had asked son whether he still remembered how to drive a stick shift, and he said he did.  Besides, he said, he’d much rather drive than have a pee-ing dog on his lap.  After several stuttering starts, he managed to get the car going.

Son was starving:  he hadn’t yet had dinner.  On the way home, we stopped by good ol’ Burger King, the very same place where self used to take son, every afternoon after picking him up from school.  Good thing self still had $6 in her wallet (She had to settle with the emergency clinic:  $400 in cash.  Good thing she’d had the presence of mind to withdraw more cash that morning.  Perhaps she always knew that as soon as son came home, he would go with her to the emergency clinic.  She prayed, and he appeared)

At 1 a.m., self called the emergency clinic.  How was Gracie?  She was “in process.”  Self started watching a SyFy movie called “Minotaur.”  She recognized Tom Hardy.  She became very interested.

She fell asleep.  The next thing she knew, the phone was ringing.  It was the emergency clinic doctor.  When were we planning to pick up Gracie?  Self glanced at the clock:  YIIKES!  She was told all the animals needed to be picked up by 7 a.m., and it was 9!

“I’ll be right there!” she yelled, and flew out the door, still in her pajamas.  She arrived at the clinic, and for a brief moment imagined she saw Gracie leaping over the receptionist’s desk.  Of course, that must have been a hallucination.  After several long moments, however, the li’l crit appeared, walking —  shakily, but on her own.  Oh, what joy!

There was a catheter sticking out of Gracie’s leg and self was told to go straight to her regular vet and have Gracie kept on a fluid drip for the rest of the day.  But since Gracie seemed so much improved, self decided to take her home instead (Self knows, she knows.  This is terrible.  Call her trash!  Go ahead!)

Mid-afternoon, the vet called.  When were we planning to bring Gracie in?  Self said she was really doing much better; did she really need a drip?  At which, the vet grew incensed, so self didn’t bother to argue.  She hauled Gracie off.  Then, there was an hour-long wait in the vet’s office.  Then, we were told the vet had to make an urgent house call, return the next day at 8 a.m.

In between all these comings and goings, Gracie became increasingly ambulatory and alert.  By the time we returned from the vet’s office, she was sniffing at the ground and acting very curious about smells and such.  Self took the li’l crit to the backyard.

She helped Gracie along by lifting up her hind legs.  Now and then, the li’l crit would just collapse.  But when self would try to carry her, her legs would flail out, as if she very much wanted to walk.  So self would put her down, and that li’l dog very determinedly walked.  Her eyesight has deteriorated:  she kept bumping into the edge of the deck and knocking her head against the fence.  But every time self tried to bring her inside, Gracie would resist.

Finally, self left her out in the backyard and checked on her periodically.  Suddenly, while self was in the kitchen, she happened to glance down, and Gracie was at her feet.  Somehow, self doesn’t know how, the li’l crit had groped her way on to the deck, up the back stairs, through the doggie door, and into the kitchen, totally un-aided!

As it happened, the vet called shortly thereafter to check up on Gracie.  Self told him that Gracie had a ravenous appetite.  Moreover, she was very active.  The vet seemed pleased.  He wasn’t so mad at self anymore.  Self agreed to bring Gracie in the next morning, 8 a.m. sharp.

Then two of son’s friends came and knocked on the door.  There was a shrill series of barks.  Gracie, from her perch in the middle of the kitchen, was barking her head off, the way she always used to do when strangers knocked at the door.  Shortly after that, she began pushing the other li’l crit, Bella, off the sleeping cushion next to the living room sofa, re-asserting her right as “Top Dog.”

Will wonders never cease?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The New York Times Book Review: “10 Best Books of 2010”

The New York Times Book Review of 12 December 2010 contained the list of the “10 Best Books of 2010,” five fiction and five nonfiction.  Of the 10, these two really piqued self’s interest:

After reading the rest of the book review, here are the books self is interested in reading:

After reading Edmund White’s review of Christopher Isherwood’s The Sixties:  Diaries, Volume Two:  1960 – 1969:

  • Christopher Isherwood’s The Sixties:  Diaries, Volume Two:  1960 – 1969

After reading Gail Godwin’s end-paper essay on “Working on the Ending” :

  • Samuel Becket’s “late novel” Worstward Ho (The one that contains the sentence:  “Fail again, fail better.”)

Son is home, helping self to attend to Gracie who, although still quite weak, is at least able to walk unaided.

Miraculous Gracie

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Perusing The Economist’s Best Books of the Year 2010

The milky haze that clouded Gracie’s eyes since self’s return has gone this afternoon.  Her pupils are clear and brown again.

Which means self can now devote a little more time to catch-up reading.

Here are the books self is interested in reading, after perusing The Economist’s Books of the Year 2010:

Politics and Current Affairs

Biography and Memoir



  • Joshua Ferris’ The Unnamed:  About how an “incurable disease kills off a marriage, a career, a hero’s self-esteem.  An unusual and elegant meditation on the struggle with uncertainty.”
  • Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists:  “A first novel set in Rome, on a once-mighty American-owned international newspaper, not a million miles from the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, where Tom Rachman used to work”
  • William Trevor’s Selected Stories:  Trevor’s “fascination with, and sympathy for, so-called ordinary people and their small, poignant plights still seems inexhaustible.”


  • Derek Walcott’s White Egrets:  Poems:  “Mr. Walcott raises up the local  —  the sights and the sounds of his native St. Lucia  —  until they become the stuff of epic.”

The above list does not, of course, make up the definitive list of 2010’s best books because, for one thing, there are only two women authors in it.  In fact women —  ha, ha —  are actually not that well-represented in The Economist’s review pages.  So approach this —  as with all “Best of” lists —  with a grain of salt.

Self is also aware that this list is just about half the length of last year’s selections from The Economist‘s Books of the Year 2009.  Something for which she has no explanation.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: From a Very Very Old Issue of the Journal PHILIPPINE STUDIES

It is Christmas, finally.  Self hardly noticed its coming.  All she knows is that Gracie can walk —  in fact, wants to walk, but her legs are weak.  Self wants her to walk as soon as possible, so she places food a few feet from Gracie and coaxes her.  She does this for hours.  Which is why it is now 2:29 a.m.

Since self knows she might as well write off Christmas (considering how many dramatic events have occurred in her life lately), she decides that she will consider the day well spent if she does nothing more than browse through her vast collection of Philippine Studies.

In the First Quarter, 1992 issue, There’s an article by Harold Olofson and Araceli Tiukinhoy, about Muro-Ami Fishing in Cebu.

Since self was recently in Cebu, the article’s title piques her interest.  And the very first paragraph is quite interesting.  Here’s an excerpt:

In a controversial article on the state of Philippine Society, published three years ago in The Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows, the magazine’s widely travelled Asian correspondent, wrote that because of a failure of nationalism, “people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country.”  Whether this is a realistic assessment or not, we cannot verify.  But certainly his statement is only one side of presumed normative interaction in the country.  There are those who mete out ill treatment, and those who receive it.  Were Fallows to be more rounded in his view, he would also have to write about how many ordinary Filipinos allow themselves to be mistreated without complaint, even without the consciousness that they are not getting what they deserve, throughout the course of an ordinary day.

So fascinating.  Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

A Classic: Philippine PEN Conference, Cebu 2010

Self would be hard put to identify each and every writer in this photo.  She’s in touch with some of them still  —  on Facebook, as well as  on e-mail.  Did she forget to mention that she had such a good time gabbing with old buddy Wendell Capili, and that Ferdie Lopez helped her out when she was lost and wandering around the Cebu terminal, looking for Gate 7 for her flight to Bacolod?

Self thinks she must have been dreaming:  Cebu, Montebello Villa, the judge who writes poetry about birds, the waiters handing out ensaimada with ube inside, hanging out with other writers, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Siquijor, Hinobo-an, Cubao X, the Balay Daku on Burgos Street, meeting with Francis and Zack in Greenbelt.  She was imagining all that, right?  And Gracie is not actually sick.  And son’s girlfriend Amanda did not just fall from a horse and receive a concussion, and self did not get the call from son, early this morning, in which he delivered the extremely terrible news that, for the first time ever, he will not be coming home for Christmas.

No, self never left;  she was here all the time in Redwood City.

Maligayang Pasko, everyone!

Stay tuned.

Gracie Update

She’s trembling, the poor li’l crit, under the broad leaves of a giant agapanthus.

Self stayed up with her last night, then fell asleep around dawn.  At some point during the night, Gracie was barking, barking, barking.  This is just the li’l crit’s way:  when she is frightened or nervous, she barks.  Last night, she kept it up for hours.  Hubby eventually got up.  Self heard him moving around the kitchen.  She must have fallen asleep.

When she came to, it was already past 10 a.m, and hubby was mopping up dog pee from the kitchen floor.  He declared that Gracie was completely blind.

We told the vet we’d start insulin treatment.  We went to the clinic so a nurse could show us how it should be done:  “Tent the skin,” the nurse told self.  “Here, you practice on one of our boarders.”  Another nurse came in, leading a gigantic and supremely gentle collie on a leash.  Self put her right hand on the ridge of the collie’s back, grabbed a pinch of skin, lifted, and jabbed in a slender needle with what she hoped was convincing assertiveness (Syringe was filled with saline solution only).  It didn’t go in all the way.

“It’s all right,” the nurse said.  “I know it’s different when it’s not your dog.”

Since Gracie became so weak, the other li’l crit, Bella, has been staying clear of her.  Funny how these things go, this animal instinct for self-preservation.  Whatever it is Gracie has, Bella must be thinking or feeling, she surely doesn’t want any of it.

Self bought cans of special prescription dog food, mixed some with warm water, and Gracie lapped it up.

Let’s see, what else today?  In spite of all the drama over Gracie, self managed to finish Jose Saramago’s The Cave, which she started reading on the plane to Manila (Last time self was in Manila, she managed to read four books.  This time, she couldn’t even get through one) She brought it back to the library, hoping to borrow another book.  She had just put money into the parking meter when a man said, “Library’s closed today.”  Self expressed surprise, dismay, disappointment.  She kept on walking until she reached the library’s front entrance and saw the posted holiday schedule.  The library re-opens on Sunday, the day after Christmas.

Self wishes the holidays were over already, real fast.

Just now, she made hubby help her bring Gracie back inside.  Hubby complained that her fur is matted with urine, which is true.  But, at this point, self doesn’t care that the li’l crit stinks to high heaven, only that she is still alive.

Son offered to take Gracie back with him to Claremont.  Self actually thought this was a pretty good idea, as Gracie loves son.  But how would he handle the blindness, the twice-daily insulin injections, his classes, as well as an assistantship?  Self wondered if perhaps Gracie might be happy with son’s girlfriend, whose parents have a farm in Nipomo.  Amanda has two other dogs, and she knows animals.  So many things to ponder, and self’s been back barely two days.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Gracie Presenting with New Symptoms

From the moment self walked in the door, yesterday afternoon, (after 23 days spent visiting beloved homeland), self knew there was something wrong with Gracie.  At self’s entrance, she lifted her head lethargically from her sleep cushion and presented self with eyes that were dull and marbled.

Then, the poor li’l crit kept self up all last night, whining piteously.  Self must have risen ten times during the night, each time presenting Gracie with bowls of water which she lapped up voraciously.

This morning, self watched the li’l crit as she dragged herself to the backyard to do her business.  She was listing sideways.

Finally, self couldn’t stand it anymore.  She called desperately around to friends, the Peninsula Humane Society, Beagle Rescue, Pets in Need —  in fact, any organization which might have a friendly local vet who would provide diagnostic services free of charge (since she dreads the $500 bills she gets from her regular vet, sometimes just for basic exams and shots).  The Peninsula Humane Society said they could treat Gracie, but only if self agreed to surrender her first.

No one could help.  Her friends said they knew of no vets who would provide services on a “humanitarian” basis (Self had somehow been under the mistaken impression that there existed the doggie equivalent of Doctors Without Borders.)

Finally, self broke down and called Gracie’s regular vet.  When told that an exam would cost only $52, she made an appointment to bring Gracie in.

The vet took one look at Gracie and said that she certainly looked like she would need hospitalization, “and that can run you anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000.”


Self called hubby, she called son.  Hubby said not to spend anything, but son was of the mind that we should at least request tests, “so we’ll know what’s wrong.”

So self opted for $159 blood tests (plus $52 office visit, bill for Gracie would come out to $211)

After a long wait, during which self crouched down on the floor beside Gracie and stroked the poor, weak li’l crit’s head, the vet returned with the blood test results:  Gracie apparently suffers from high cholesterol and advanced diabetes (much like self’s own Dear Departed Dad).


Self has to adminiter insulin shots to Gracie, twice a day, for the rest of Gracie’s life (The li’l crit is 9 years old.)

Self inquired as to the cost of such treatment:  $100/ month.

Again she felt like blurting out, NOOOO!!

She took the poor li’l crit home, after telling the vet she needed time to think.

Hubby was already home, and self instructed him to prepare Gracie’s dinner, supplementing her regular dry dog food with ladles of broth.

Gracie ate approximately half her dinner, and then fell asleep.  Her breathing is somewhat laboured, but at least she is sleeping.

It is now 8:33 pm in Redwood City.  Self thinks it is about time to call it a night.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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