Influences (or Why I Write the Way I Do)

Natalie Goldberg (free-flowing writing)
Clarissa Pinkola Estes (wild woman writing)
Jane Hutchison (direct-to-the-point writing)
Ernest Hemingway (simple words writing)

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thank You 2008

2008 is a mixed year, a truth now established worldwide. i call it the 'Year of the Impossible'. 2008 is the year the USA turned third world because of the sins of capitalism. it was the year an international model-turned-pop singer became first lady of france. it was the year that two very young actors from hollywood and our own showbiz died of very mysterious circumstances amidst rousing success in their field. it was the year a lefty spaniard won wimbledon again since 1954; then went on to win olympic gold. it was the year that a little known media outfit named summit commissioned less known stars in a movie entitled twilight and reached heaven.

the same impossibilities ruled my world. i almost died in the middle of the year and changed jobs at the end. the year i burned bridges with my two employers, ruled as they are by men and women who have come to worship money and to forsake friendship along the way. so it was a year of realizations - sad and bitter truths that have graced this blog. that one could really be mistaken about friends and employers. that one could experience outcomes undeserved. that the only dignified way to go through it, is to cry.

but i am where i am supposed to be. as i've said before, goodness will come out of this. so i have much to thank 2008. i thank 2008 for true-blue friends since immemorial and in the industry who held my hand and never wavered in their trust. i thank 2008 for the maturity to stand by bitter realities as they are, to not fight the truth but to face it squarely and to believe in tomorrow. i learned to trust in the adage that every day is a new day. that every new day brings hope, renewal. facing death and betrayal, i came to trust my God.

the numerologist, mr. nora, uncannily told me in december 2007 that for me, 2008 would be a year of harvesting. for me to reap what i have sown for so long. that this year will mark new beginnings. that this year, every thing i know, my specializations will coalesce into one new job, new skill. his words ring true now. his advice is that i should not hesitate in every opportunity that knocks. that i should not waver from what i have set out to do.

i have no special resolutions for 2009. i will just continue and move forward in every aspect of my life. i look forward to being more motivated into being better in what i do, than being successful. i look forward to bringing a better me in a relationship rather than just being plainly in love. i look forward to taking yaman to her first day in school come january 5, talking more with her and allowing her personality to shine than just spending 'quality time' with her, whatever that may mean. i look forward to living out my realities as a single working class mom who lives in a tree-lined street in quezon city and spends friday nights in yoga class. i thank 2009 already, for just coming.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Against all Superstitions

this would be the second time. the first time was way back in 1995. my cash was frozen in the atm by christmastime when atms in naga suddenly went out of money over the long holiday season. i had to make do by borrowing from my mom, or rather, borrowing my money from my mom since i was the one supporting her that time (and till now). this time, i am without cash, literally, because my salary (mid nov to mid dec) was not remitted by my employer this december. calls to manila confirmed the glitch between the finance dept and the bank on the ground floor. i had to make do with an apology and a promise of remittance by ja-dannn!!!...january 5.

the reason why i'm still smiling, other than because i'm good at keeping a happy face, is that i followed some nice tips in handling money. borrowing and using my credit card therefore comes as a last, last resort. these tips now have been tested and i think it's a good deal to share to you this season when money flies out faster or like me, frozen in time.

1. stash any little money you have. eversince great writer and friend, maryanne moll, gave me a moleskin last april 2008, i've kept two. one was notebook-sized (maryanne's gift) and the other was a handy pocket notebook. its back flaps could hold any paper and in it, i believed are stashed a couple of 500 and 50 peso bills for uses in emergency, as now.

2. keep your dollars and keep them handy. one of the few good advice left by yaman's dad to me. so, dollars left over from trips in australia and work i did for an indonesian friend are kept in red ampaos (for good luck actually). like the moleskins, i carry this with me in my bags for emergency. although i would have wanted to keep them longer, i think their time is drawing near.

3. keep an emergency fund. had only about 2 months and these i used mainly for christmas shopping and bills i had to settle earlier than january like rent. i had more reason now to have this replenished as soon as possible.

4. get sidelines left and right. i just watched mel and joey last sunday and one seer there said that in 2009 which in numerology adds up to 11 is the time 'para mamangka sa dalawang ilog'. for those without love lives and very bent on work, this would mean that moonlighting would rule. i haven't moonlighted that well this 2008 but money stashed a little from these sources really helped build up my emergency fund. i will be relying on this more in 2009 of course.

5. invest in security like life insurance and health care. this year i was able to fulfill my dream of providing life coverage for my two dependents, yaman and mommy (courtesy of tita emily agna and mading joey). also courtesy of my former employer, yaman and i are covered too by medicare until august next year. it is enough to provide peace of mind that in case anything happens, the coverage would pay for itself and reduce the need for ready cash.

as of today, nearing the eve of the new year, i have no special resolutions in mind. except for superstitions not to backfire. i'll greet the new year with a wiped-out bank account and not that many bills or coins to fill my pockets. against all superstitions, perhaps resolve is enough.

Monday, December 29, 2008

naga by nose: ma-ki ala bicol lunch

Naga is more than just pili. Or laing or anything identifyingly bicolano like gata or sili. in this series, like Taxi Tales, i would like to start off telling tales of foods and delicacies from Naga of old. this is my attempt at preservation; against modern and hip food crazes mushrooming along Magsaysay Avenue that may have the tendency to obliterate preference for these foods and delicacies. These are not necessarily 'native' but their smells, flavors, and the memories they evoke are special enough. i call it naga by nose because literally, i am following the smells. until recently when yaman and i saw ratatouille the movie, i also learned that cooking is most guided by one's sense of smell.

eating ma-ki in bicol lunch is a rite, a habit that every true blue member of the valenzuela clan should undergo and foster. it is a practice transferred across generations --- from my grand lolo to my lolo; from my dad and his siblings to us and my cousins; and us to our children (yaman loves it! yoohoo!). it is in our family history and much of naga's as well.

to begin with, bicol lunch is housed in one of the oldest buildings owned by don abella in general luna. it's hardly noticeable now, switched in between universal bakery and the stall formerly occupied by lacerna pawnshop. but in its heyday, the building it occupied was off-white, standing like a plaza with rows of shops in the exterior encircling living space within.

in naga city, bicol lunch is the one and only authority for ma-ki, a chinese broth filled with pork or beef pieces, wrapped in gawgaw, the soup served with beaten eggs and chopped green onions. it is best eaten with 'arroz' (as my dad would call it) or just plain sinangag riddled with leftover pork. one full bowl is P55 and the arroz is about P25. Hoyeh has its own version but it barely compares. often, the comment is that the soup looks like 'sipon' and not surprisingly, awkward glances, with hand over mouth to prevent one from gagging, would be met from friends who had far more 'class'. my friend from highschool, tess dacudao could not handle it. bestfriend angeline a little; but her husband, vincent, perhaps never. it does not take much to like ma-ki. one just had to go past the limits posed by one's sense of sight and surrender to the sensations of taste.

bicol lunch in itself is so masa its chairs are the back to back wooden seats of old, and water is served in heavy thick glasses. when my dad was still alive, he would say that bicol lunch is as old and musty-looking as it was when he first stepped inside it at age seven.

to get first pick of the best ma-ki in town, be there from 9am-10am or from 130pm-230pm. supply is good while it lasts and usually, the supply is dictated more by the predilection of the cook than the need to satisfy 'market demand'. the management is so wealthy word has it that in the past when sweepstakes was the norm, naga-based winners could just exchange their winnings at bicol lunch, for whatever the amount. it is so wealthy it does not need to keep up. two years ago, the place was renovated but only to expand to machine and appliance parts. a decision purely business. my brother jungee would joke (with a tinge of seriousness) that bicol lunch now is a machine shop serving ma-ki on the side. thank heavens, the ma-ki is as good as ever and i haven't seen nails or bolts floating in the soup.

their servers are usually men perhaps to rein in one of the owners' mentally disabled sons. if not for him, i could eat at bicol lunch every day. so my lady friends, have a man tag along for protection. but the maki is so good that take outs would suffice. it is worth the wait after months craving for it in manila. one of the million reasons why naga remains to be home.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mt Carmel

Once you visit Naga, don't forget to drop by Mt. Carmel Church at Concepcion Grande. It houses the Carmelite Convent and neighbors the Holy Rosary Major Seminary, the breeding ground for priests in the Bicol Region. This closeness invites stories of underground tunnels connecting the two and supposedly dead babies lining the canals, the product of unholy trysts between 'mother' and 'father'. But taking this aside, please do visit Carmel; if only to reflect on our Lady of Mt Carmel whose handsome statue guards its right sanctum. St. Expeditus and St. Jude, the patron saints of urgent needs and impossibility, are on the left and right sides of the altar, respectively. The church takes a 5-minute walk from the entrance, already a test of faith especially under hot summer suns or sudden november showers. One can just sit on the front pews, close one's eyes and just absorb the silence. The church echoes even with the flapping of birds' wings. During December, its highlights include the Belen fronting the altar, which every year is designed differently. never mind if sometimes it looks superfluous, the effort of decorators pay off because it is a sight to behold at a distance, especially if the christmas lights are on. so do visit this Church, my church. if i get to fulfill my dream of becoming a nun, you know where to find me.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Notes to a Dad

My friend Lito's daughter is leaving for Australia soon. i think by the first week of January to take on masters studies at UniMelb. He is quite apprehensive about it, seeing his unica hija go and do it all alone in the prime city of melbourne. although the daughter has left for abroad before, this time it would be on a long term basis and in his words, 'maligalig yun',...she 'can't even make her own bed'.

i could understand that in my own way, on the leaving side. my father, who passed away in 1994 at a very premature age of 44, did not get to see me leave for australia in 1998 but he did witness me packing my bags for El-Bi in 1987. he didn't cry of course, i bet lito would, but perhaps dad have been as apprehensive as he. living in El-Bi was my first time to be separated from family and i survived it, well enough to graduate on time (hay!).

not that fathers shouldn't grieve or worry, that's pretty normal. but being on the other side, i would like to share these bits and pieces from my experience as an independent student at 17 and a budding vulnerable woman at 27. if only these could quell any doubts and make the tears worthwhile on leaving day:

1. We are surrounded by little islands. Away from the mainland that is home, I found little islands of friends and acquaintances that filled my need, quite, for family, but that was enough. social circles revolved around fellow filipinos, students and families; foreign housemates/ friends and of these, i found great friends from Singapore (Elaine) and Indonesia (Janty); friends from the academe; and even walking buddies.

2. Independence is nourishing. I credit El-Bi a lot with fostering my individuality and that need to really know my myself. To acknowledge what interests fit me or not; to know the kind of friends i should hang on to; how to express myself and be ok if it would not fit others' expectations. i learned how to balance my budget, what with my dwindling pool of funds every 30th --- i learned how to eat gulay, subsist on saba sardines, and sometimes, just monay. i learned to be content and not compare myself with others not as financially challenged as me that time.

3. The bed will be made, eventually. it's a life without rules. in bella's words, without anyone 'hovering' for you to do the right thing. one can chose to just wake up at 7am, don the pants hanging near and go to school without even washing one's face --- if that means rushing to the acctg exam, also at 7am (i did that!). in perth, i could go braless during winter with 3 shirts and 1 woolen jacket over my bosom. i could just choose to eat chicken for days. i could choose to not clean my room, leave all my notebooks and books strewn across the bedroom floor, go to fremantle the whole day and just idle around the shops and later have cappuccino. in time, though, the room will be cleaned, purpose will be had on idle sundays, and of course, i could not dare be braless in spring, summer and autumn. so normality will return but on our terms. we know responsibility, and we will exercise it.

4. We'll play it safe. i am not saying that we should all lose our virginity. it was a decision i made on my own. i chose not to be a virgin forever. something that i have regrets now (and will be the subject of another blog) but that time, i think i handled it pretty well. that's when sex education mattered and knowing one's self mattered, even more. for the record, i did not play around. chose to have relationships first then, that.

5. One needs isolation to know the values of belonging. Ask bestfriend Liza...i was so intolerable at El-Bi. i am the housemate from hell - my temper tantrums and my freakishness. perth changed all that. tables were turned when i lived with a filipino family and the girl suddenly became venomous towards me, for no apparent reason. it was like, i experienced how to be the butt of one's temper tantrums and that led me to realizing that if i could not bear it, then no one should be subjected to it by me. so i moved out and stayed at green court this time with an aussie, a newzea and an indonesian. i had to adjust. i learned to master the tantrums, the freakishness. one has to become a better person, and corny and so atenean as it may sound, indeed, for others.

We will come home sooner or later. with our bags, we bring new selves as well. we may look fatter or slimmer; our cheeks red from the cold or our skin burned black by the hot perth sun. But on the inside, we hold something more; new directions, new meanings of ourselves that make us better women and, better daughters.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Block

the wall and endless white. flying thoughts, not restless but can't be pinned down. yaman is asleep - this is my time. but what can i make out of it? the hang of writing, of committing to it everyday. wanting lightning to strike - be dramatic and real. but thud. it's a low low thunder. inspiration, inspiration, where are you now?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

chicken sitti and chicken ala roco

what made this xmas special to us are 2 chicken recipes new to our palate and cooked by no less than my younger sister, yumi. she got this from net 25, bless janice de belen and this network for introducing us to new recipes created no less by our showbiz stars. chicken sitti is of course from bossanova princess, sitti, and chicken ala roco by guess who? bembol roco. what i regret is that i did not take pictures of the dishes (kasi di ko alam na magiging ganun kasarap and unforgettable!) so here i am sharing you the recipes from sister yumi's memory.


deep fry whole chicken in low fire then set aside. saute 6 tomatoes and 3 onions cut in halves. pour 1 tbsp of vinegar then simmer. put 1 pc laurel leaf, 1 tsp star anise seeds, 2 tbsp soy sauce and 1 tbsp sugar. simmer. pour 1 cup of water. simmer ulit daw. put chicken in mixture and while simmering, pour over chicken to absorb taste. done!


marinate chicken (1 dozen choice cuts) with little salt, pepper, and garlic powder. coat with flour then fry. set aside. saute 2 large minced white onions with 1 chicken cube. pour 1 cup water then let simmer. put the chicken then pour worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and msg (or any substitute if you're health-conscious --- kayo na bahala dun). mix with blanched baguio beans, carrots, and fried potatoes (ala french fries). top with quail eggs. done!

actually the french fries and quail eggs were yumi's additions to make the dish delectable to kids --- with 10 year-old ira in mind.

i dedicate this blog to mading joey aldor who was in my thoughts while i was writing this. she cooks although she happens to live with an even better cook.

let us be happy to explore food as we go along life. happy to spend xmas this way. filled to the brim with delicious home-made cooking. thanks yums, thanks sistah!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Birthday Jesus

Pass by Sikatuna and on top of PARES is a sign in Christmas lights that reads, 'Happy Birthday, Jesus'. What a poignant way to observe Christmas. I have forgotten too, myself. That indeed, Christmas is the birth of Christ; that 38 minutes from now, several thousand years ago, a child was born in a stable, surrounded by hay and barely finished with suckling, was prevented from sleeping by three men bearing gifts of no practical use to a newborn. But he came with an even greater promise and purpose than what his parents deemed possible from his bare little hands. If we are born in the image of God, then it must be logical to say too that we are born with the same promise held by Jesus in his hands. That we are more than our physical selves; that our innate power, our faith can push us further. That we can be more for others despite failing ourselves sometimes. Jesus also faced a lot of doubts; in the end he too, he rued his pre-defined purpose in life. But in the end, he came to believe, he came to accept that this, the earth and amidst sinners he should save, is where he's supposed to be. So Merry Christmas to you all. May we all the share the faith and perseverance of Christ, despite the million reasons why we may have to stop dead in our tracks. More than the season for giving, Christmas is the season for believing.
the earliest i could remember was at 6 years old. Santa gave me an apple wrapped by a yellow handkerchief. Or was it a yellow handkerchief wrapped around the apple. The last would be at 9 years. A tea set this time, with red cups and white saucers. After that, there must've been other gifts but nothing stands out except these two. Could it be because childhood for me ended at 9?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Vampire Metaphor

ever wonder how relationships could get one-sided? it's not common to find both couples in control of her or his space, time and situation. in time, someone will give in and allow her or him-self to be subsumed in the qualities and personality of the other person. it comes to the point of looking blindly to mistakes, to the incursions and sometimes subtle means by which control is enforced. i call this the vampire metaphor when the numbing of individuality follows that of the senses. it is dangerous because it takes a while to go back, to get undone. the instinct sometimes is to kill.

many times in eclipse, jacob would call edward, bloodsucker. and that is how it works. the sucking of the blood is like the sucking of one's life force, one's own purpose, one's own control of destiny. edward is too much aware of the danger he poses. are we that aware too? do we live in blinded relationships? do we struggle to please, to lose self just to make the peace?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Falling in Love...With your Best Friend

In my current obsession with everything Twilight and Edward Cullen-istic, I stumbled into a nakaka-kilig and lighthearted video made on lead stars, Rob Pattinson and Kristen Stewart in YouTube entitled, Robert-Kristen: Falling in Love at a Coffee Shop. I would like you to see it and be held in thrall by the silent language of their eyes and how they regard each other. I bet Kristen is holding back a lot. (As of press time, they are not actually involved. But in the end, who knows?)

The prospect of finding that you are actually in love and destined to be with, a best friend really gets to me. Perhaps because I dwell more on acceptance, on not having to pretend, on not having to strike an intelligent conversation to be listened to. As I appreciate honesty that bites but never taunts and never leaves. I’d rather be with someone who knows me like a t-shirt (inside-out), than someone who takes my constant effort to please. Hay, the prospect is past me now as I find no one interesting enough to behold or interested in me to fit the bill among my male bestfriends. I seem to have the same number as my female best friends but they are all taken by women who are living and those living in their memory (Doc, no offense ha?!). So I just content myself to seeing honest to goodness love unravel between friends and be kilig all over. You are very lucky if now you have found love in your bestfriend. Kung kayo na, congrats, swerte mo. Kung hindi pa; then well, lakasan mo loob mo. Express it, take a chance in love that’s real.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Edward Cullen

in him, stephenie meyer gave us the mythical boyfriend. he is that boy. one who stands by you at a protective stance, takes you to your car seat and even straps the buckle. insists on knowing your dad and asks permission to date. content to just talk, really interested in your history. when he looks at you, he bores through. it is difficult to lie, to not expose yourself. restraint and sexual tension combined. a cold body disguising a tortured but warm heart, and undoubtedly, a living soul. rob pattinson portrayed him well. the incarnate - animalistic, gothic yet angelic. that voracious pained look tempered by tender stares.

but what does edward cullen really stand for other than these attributes. other than being that boy. amaya says he is universal - the typical outcast who shines through without even trying, and with trying not to. my theory is that he is our longing for things past that were good and should have been. that somehow, we wished men did not lose their chivalry trudging through the 20th century. that somehow time got through them and women's fight for rights. he represented the earnest, constant and trusted lover. edward's values have been frozen in time and how we wished we could go back to that.

what man could say that lovers should save each other equally? what man could say that you have the right to live your own life, experience human things, to be you as a woman for whatever right you want to exercise? what man will love you despite gap in age, eventually? no need to diet, get plastic surgery, or even dye one’s hair. he is a once-in-a-lifetime gift. no…a once-even-in-the-after-life gift because even in death, he will follow. that is why i am confused why stephenie meyer chose to kill bella eventually and turn her into a vampire when it is the human bella that was special to edward. why would stephenie meyer succumb to the traditional ending of woman submitting to man’s nature when woman can forcefully live her own. the best way to exact justice is to die, to kill edward but perhaps, now he is, living with a vampiric bella. perhaps i will understand when i read breaking dawn.

i find edward the highest prize a strong willed woman could ever have. an equal in silent strength. but as i’ve said, he is mythical. one who lives in fiction living out a legend in its pure, uncorrupted form. is this why stephenie meyer conjured him rich in impossibilities? a virgin vampire, perfect yet extinct. so i will hold him in respect, be awed by his beauty and be content that even in myth, Edward Cullen was released from one author’s maginations to our consciousness; our deep and fervent longings of how noble a man’s love could be.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

mcdonalds at 5am

i'm here at mcdo-aim. Since 5am. Had signed up for my medical and will leave 8am. We've lost it. Within earshot, 2 men were exchanging blowjob exploits. A lady came in wobbling drunk, dumped by her bf who roared off in his bmw. Strangers, known once as teens, are smoking packs before the rooster even crowed. Then one turns to me and says, 'ate, is this seat taken?' to join 'friends' talking about mastering masturbation and scoring her korean guy. Where are these children's parents? A slap to me as Yaman is in naga and as even here in Manila, i can't be with her 24/7. But how i wish she would not turn out like these poor pathetic kids, rich but perhaps in numerous wrong ways. So a random seat in a random setting could set off wonderings like these. Not by accident but a deep meaningful purpose for one single mother. Thanks guys for magnifying the purpose. I will not lose it, for Yaman's sake.

natalie's challenge

actually it's not a challenge per se. It's the drill for writing practice, drummed into me by natalie goldberg, the quintessential soul writer, the gut believer. I write, almost everyday, but about work and it gets to me - the monotone, the regularity. So i'm going back to the basics. Mixing compost writing with lightning writing. Whatever. I'm writing here for the next 365 days, as in every day. So trust me, let me be, endure. If i should miss, the penalty is pesos 500 per day and you readers get to demand it from me. I'm pledging it now, to any charity or cause you support. 1st come, 1st served. No other conditions. I would have commanded slow death because for natalie, a day without writing deserves a shot in the foot. 1 toe a day. I can't lose my feet. I dream of walking Yaman to her first schoolday one day. So, let's bring it on. Trust me, let me be, endure.