Reading, 4th Wednesday of October (2013)

My mother was thrilled to be dying of brain cancer after a lifetime of smoking.

—  Susan Perabo, “Indulgence,” in One Story Issue # 178

*     *     *

One important way that people evaluate their circumstances is to compare themselves with the people around them and with their own previous experiences.  For instance, people measure themselves against their age peers, and making more money than others in their age group tends to make people happier.  Along the same lines, research shows that people who live in a neighborhood with richer people tend to be less happy than those in a neighborhood where their neighbors make about as much money as they do.

—  Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project, 167

*     *     *

Being healthy doesn’t guarantee happiness.  Lots of healthy people are very unhappy.  Many of them squander their health or take it for granted.  In fact, some people might even be better off with some physical limitation that would prevent them from making destructive choices.  (I once went on vacation with a group that included the most wild and reckless guy I’d ever met, and I was quite relieved when he broke his foot during an early escapade, because the mishap prevented him from getting up to much more mischief.

—  Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project, pp. 169 – 170

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Hue of You 2: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is about color:  “The Hue of You.”  The idea is to “share a photograph with a prominent color (or assortment of colors) that reveals more about you.  It could be a symbolic, meaningful shade; a color that expresses how you currently feel; or a combination of colors that excites you and tells a visual story.”

Color is about emotions, too.  Since all the ones in this set of photographs are bright, self knows she is feeling pretty good right now.

In the first picture, self was attracted to the pop of magenta among the welter of fliers on this kiosk on the Stanford campus.

Stanford Kiosk, this evening: Walked around after attending a Valerie Miner reading

Stanford Kiosk, this evening: Walked around after attending a Valerie Miner reading

When self returned from Bacolod, the garden was dry.  It was a sad place.  Bella’s water and food dish were still on the deck, as were all her pillows.  Then, suddenly, two days ago, the alstroemeria began to bloom.

Backyard:  Alstroemeria "Third Harmonic"

Backyard: Alstroemeria “Third Harmonic”

Self had never seen grass so green as the grass she saw on the campus of Pampanga Agricultural College, which she visited at the end of September.

The Main Quadrangle of Pampanga Agricultural College

The Main Quadrangle of Pampanga Agricultural College

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


David Benioff, Self Hates You!

Here is self, organizing her reading list.  She’s still on The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, but that could take a while.

The next book on her list is a novel, City of Thieves, written by David Benioff.

If you think the name sounds familiar, you wouldn’t be mistaken:  The David Benioff who writes novels is the same David Benioff who co-produces HBO’s Game of Thrones.


Can this guy NOT do anything?

Self feels so smug.  He’s probably an awful writer, self thinks.

On to p. 1:

My grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen.  I don’t remember anyone telling me —  it was always something I seemed to know, the way I knew the Yankees wore pinstripes for home games and gray for the road.  But I wasn’t born with the knowledge.  Who told me?  Not my father, who never shared secrets, or my mother, who shied away from mentioning the unpleasant, all things bloody, cancerous, or deformed.

OMG, that’s amazing writing.

(Self grits her teeth in envy)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Back Issue: The New York Review of Books

Every day for the last three days, self has been driving north — to Berkeley, to San Francisco.

BART went on strike on midnight, Friday.  The traffic has been horrible.

The 2nd annual Filipino American International Book Festival has wrapped.  Self went Saturday and Sunday.  It was exhilarating, but also a tad stressful.

So many books!  So little money!

It was grrrreat seeing:  Linda Nietes.  M. Evelina Galang.  Angela Narciso Torres.  Luisa Igloria.  Karen Llagas.  Cecilia Brainard (who moderated panels on two successive days).  Tony Robles & family.  Edwin Lozada.  Barbara Jane Reyes.  Oscar Bermeo.  Rashaan Alexis Meneses.  Penelope Flores.  Michelle Bautista.  Jean Vengua.  Gayle Romasanta.  Aileen Ibardaloza-Cassinetto.

Now, self must rest her weary and over-stimulated brain.

This evening, self discovered that Goldilocks is moving from their Westborough location, to some other place in South San Francisco.

In the September Vanity Fair is an article on the painter Balthus and his last muse, a girl who began modeling for him at 8.  It is rather shocking to see the painter’s Polaroids of this girl partially unclothed. But there was nothing at all prurious in his interest:  his wife and daughter were fully aware of this relationship.  To which self can only exclaim:  How very, very European! Such a level of tolerance would not be possible in America.

She decided to re-new her subscription to The New York Review of Books, for two more years.

In the issue of June 30, 2013 is a poem by Zbigniew Herbert, translated from the Polish by Alissa Valles.  Self only has time to replicate the first half:


In memory of Jean Améry


The torturers sleep soundly their dreams are rosy
good-natured genocides — foreign and home-grown
already forgiven by brief human memory
a gentle breeze turns the pages of family albums
the windows of the house open to August the shade of an

    apple-tree in bloom

under which a fine brood has gathered
grandfather’s open carriage an expedition to church
first communion mother’s first embrace
a campfire in a clearing and a starry sky
without omens or mysteries without an Apocalypse
so they sleep soundly their dreams are wholesome
full of food drink fleshy bodies of women
with whom they play erotic games in bushes in groves
and over it all floats a never-forgotten voice
a voice as pure as a spring innocent as an echo
singing of a boy who spied a rose on the heath

memory’s bell awakens no ghosts or nightmares
memory’s bell repeats its great absolution

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Currents: What Self Is Interested in Reading Now (19 October 2013)

  • a translation from the French by a writer whose name self encountered for the first time only a few hours ago:  Daniel Arsand.  The novel is Lovers.
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
  • Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (perhaps self’s favorite book of her childhood. Other than The Hobbit)
  • a book about the terrible things that happened in a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina:  Five Days at Memorial, by Katy Butler
  • a story collection by Tom Barbash:  Stay Up With Me
  • a memoir, by Amanda Lindhout, of what happened after she was kidnapped and held for ransom in Somalia:  A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
  • A Thousand Pardons, a new novel from Jonathan Dee (Malcolm Gladwell recommended it in the By the Book interview)
  • Janet Malcolm’s Psychoanalysis:  The Impossible Profession
  • James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity
  • Tim Parks’s 2011 memoir, Teach Us to Sit Still

(The list is made up of books reviewed in the September 8, 2013 and October 6, 2013 issues of The New York Times Book Review.)

Self is still on The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin.  Sometime in the near future, she’s going to switch gears.  She’s just added Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and Gulag: A History, by Anne Applebaum, to her reading list.  Let’s just hope she doesn’t wind up reading them during the Christmas holidays: it might result in the blog developing a rather schizophrenic feel.  Especially if she starts interspersing images of holiday festivity with images of human cruelty.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.

The Hue of You: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is:

Share a photograph with a prominent color (or assortment of colors) that reveals most about you.  It could be a symbolic, meaningful shade; a color that expresses how you currently feel; or a combination of colors that excites you and tells a visual story.

Self loves bright colors, especially orange!

October is Masskara month in Bacolod.  Colorful masks adorn the entire city.

October is Masskara month in Bacolod. Colorful masks adorn the entire city.

Jeepney Interior:  Bacolod, October 2013

Jeepney Interior: Bacolod, October 2013

E. Aguilar Cruz House and Museum, Magalang, Pampanga:  September 2013

E. Aguilar Cruz House and Museum, Magalang, Pampanga: September 2013

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Thanks Much, Charles Tan

Charles A. Tan was the first person ever to solicit a piece of speculative fiction from self.

That was several years ago.

Now, he’s compiled this amazing bibliography of Female Filipino Speculative Fiction Writers (Granted, that word “Female” is a little — odd?  Because here in the U.S. we’d say “Women Filipino Speculative Fiction Writers.” Anyhoo, enough with the digressions).

Whenever self has time, she goes over the list.  It is fun to do, as almost every writer on the list has a link to an on-line story, so one can actually read their work.

Today, for example, self read Nikki Alfar’s “Adrift on the Street Formerly Known as Buendia,” published on a site called Bewildering Stories, and it was very, very entertaining.  Also enjoyed Crystal Koo’s “The Startbox,” in Usok # 1 (2009).

There are some mysteries, such as why a writer named Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon has three inactive links under her entry.  Or why there are no links to any of Monique Francisco’s stories, or to Christine V. Lao’s.

But when one remembers that Charles isn’t paid to do any of this, that he contributes his time as a labor of love, that he himself writes, and has a day job —  when one considers all of these factors, then one becomes, like self, very, very grateful.

Charles is very, very shy.  Self has only met him twice in person.  He is Ateneo-educated, slight, and softspoken.  But don’t let that exterior fool you!  Inside, he is steel.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Infinite 3: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

From The Daily Post:

    Capture “moments of wonder . . . when the infinite catches us by surprise. We stumble upon it in things both big and small: on the beach, staring into the horizon; in the depth of a loved one’s eyes; or even drowning in the emptiness of a Berlin subway car.”

Self thinks faith has a lot to do with experiencing the infinite:

Self dredged up the courage to ring the bell, too (though she couldn't ask anyone to take her picture while doing it)

The Shiva Temple at Baijnath, Himachal Pradesh:  After watching a dozen devotees reach up to ring the bell, self dredged up the courage to ring the bell, too (though she couldn’t ask anyone to take her picture while doing it)

Mountains, like these self saw in Dharamsala, which she visited in January 2012, are infinite:

Another view from the Buddhist Temple in Dharamsala

A view from the Buddhist Temple in Dharamsala

And this last picture is of a bazaar in the city of Jerusalem.  Self visited in April 2008, because Beloved Sister-in-Law Ying was receiving treatment for her leukemia in Tel Aviv.  Of all the pictures she took there, she loves this one the most.  Because a bazaar is as integral to a city’s life as churches are, and springs from impulses as ancient as faith.

In a bazaar in Jerusalem, April 2008

In a bazaar in Jerusalem, April 2008

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Still on that Pile of “Stuff”: Stanford Magazine, Sept/Oct 2013

Today, self decided to discontinue her subscription to Condé Nast Traveler.  Why?  Because the articles are geared towards very rich people, but are mostly written by writers who are a lot poorer than the people who actually may end up taking the tours.  Self has been aware of this for at least 2 – 3 years.  But she put off ending her subscription because she was enchanted by the contributing writers, who very often were writers she respected (like Linh Dinh, who is from Vietnam and who she first met in Berlin, in 2005)

She also decided to catch the first screening of “Captain Phillips” at the downtown Redwood City Century 20.  It was 11:30 a.m. There were more people than she expected there to be, at such a time of the morning, on a weekday.  She found parking right away, in front of Pamplemousse.  She liked the movie.  It was directed by Paul Greengrass.  Has there been any Paul Greengrass movie she’s disliked?  Come to think of it, no.  She thought the shaky-cam was pretty effective here in simulating the rocking of the kidnappers’ skiffs and the lifeboat on which they (with Captain Phillips as a hostage) try and make their escape.  In the end (and we all know there is only one way for this to end, because Tom Hanks’ characters almost never die), self liked Tom Hanks’s performance.  He keeps everything muted, low-key.  This is how she pictured Captain Phillips to be like (in her head, when the story first broke).  Another thing: the movie makes clear that despite the enormous technological superiority of the U.S. Navy, the outcome could have been disastrous if not for a fortuitous combination of happenstance (Captain Phillips, for one, was an enormous practical advantage for the Navy: At least as portrayed in the movie, he was clever and kept his head) and pluck (Captain Phillips’ crew, after taking back control of their ship, decided to follow the lifeboat, keeping it always in view until the Navy arrived, which self thinks must have contributed to the pressure on the Somali pirates to negotiate).  The shooting of the pirates appears almost anti-climactic.  After it happens, the movie ends rather quickly.  Which is a good thing.  Because the thing to remember is not the outcome, but how everything involved balancing on a knife edge of terror and aggression.  Wits saved the day, not firepower.

So, here is self at the end of her day.  She and The Man have had dinner, and the washing machine is running.  The backyard deck is empty.  Bella’s water dish is full.  Her pillows are scattered all around the garden.  Her funeral is next weekend, on Saturday the 26th.

One of the things she pulled out of her “Pile of Stuff” yesterday was the Stanford Magazine of September/October 2013.  Flipping through the articles, she came across a piece about Stanford psychiatrist David D. Burns.  For 10 years, Burns has led the Tuesday Night Group, “an informal weekly gathering of medical students, residents, and local therapists.”  Burns is a therapist to the therapists.  He knows many therapists are themselves prone to depression, especially if they have spent years treating patients who display no measurable signs of improvement.  Therapists, it turns out, can be just as gullible and easy to manipulate as ordinary people (So why do we need therapists?  Good question!  Self has no asnwer for that one)

Here are excerpts from the article:

“Therapists falsely believe that their impression or gut instinct about what the patient is feeling is accurate,” says May, when in fact their accuracy is very low.  “I haven’t met anyone yet who can read minds.”

Burns says most therapists “believe they are aware of how their patients are feeling at least half the time.”  He “quickly disabuses them, citing his own and other research showing only a 10 percent overlap between how a patient says he is feeling and how the therapist thinks the patient is feeling.” This is of course a “huge margin of error.”  Burns asks his patients to keep “a daily mood log, a two-page form on which patients record the negative thoughts and emotions they experienced after an upsetting event.  In addition to rating the intensity of their emotions on a numerical scale, they must also write down what therapists call cognitive distortions — such as catastrophizing (expecting only the worst to happen), emotional reasoning (believing, for example, that if we feel stupid, then we must be stupid), or mind reading (assuming that what we imagine other people are thinking is what they actually think).

Hmm, this is truly a fascinating article on Monsieur Burns, dear blog readers!  Self will stop blogging so that she can keep reading.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Reading from the Pile of “Stuff” : The New Yorker, 9 September 2013

This morning, self is reading “The Return,” an essay by David Finkel, about “the traumatized veterans of Iran and Afghanistan” :

If war is accidental, so is what happens afterward.  Two million Americans have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Most of those who have come back describe themselves as physically and mentally healthy.  They move forward.  Their war recedes.  Some are even stronger for the experience.  But studies suggest that between twenty and thirty percent of returning veterans suffer, to varying degrees, from post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental-health condition triggered by some type of terror, or a traumatic brain injury, which occurs when the brain is jolted so violently that it collides with the inside of the skull, causing psychological damage.  Every war has its after-war:  depression, anxiety, nightmares, memory problems, personality changes, suicidal thoughts.  If the studies prove correct, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created roughly five hundred thousand mentally wounded American veterans.

The article focuses on the experiences of a war veteran named Nic.

“Nic had been taking forty-three pills a day —  for pain, for anxiety, for depression, for nightmares.”  His pregnant wife wonders:

“Were there fewer pills now?  Was he still having flashbacks?  Thrashing around in his sleep?  Sleepwalking into closets, looking for his rifle?  Could he start telling her what had happened during the war?  And could she tell him about what was happening to her?  The other night she dreamed that she had given birth , and for some reason she took the baby and put it into a pressure cooker.  Could she tell Nic that soldiers aren’t the only people who have nightmares?”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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