Reading Report: Structure vs. Construction

Novel concerns:

Reading about an American photographer; the war in Vietnam; America pulling in, folding in on itself; her Vietnamese husband; a dream of lotus flowers; a mere paratext; the excuse for a title; I am unfinished; feelings are lackluster; long chapters make me dream; I ask: please do me better.

Some people one always return to–by which I mean, only that: I have myself to blame.

What I find questionable in Gündoğan: that according to him, Gramsci proposes that the relationship between civil society and the state is identical, elevated onto a higher scale (beneath this: Gündoğan believes that consent and force become one)

It was fulfilling to have met with you, Dr. Ercan Gündoğan: in summer we are told: keep your minds sharp, do not find relief, do not dawdle. I can believe in volume, I can believe in the faithful, chained to wood, clinging to a consensus that might argue against the dialectic. I can believe in method. Gündoğan, here:

One of the pillars of Gramsci’s revolutionary strategy is his discussion of the permanent revolution thesis. This strategy, adopted especially by Maoist theories of revolution in the twentieth century, was based on the assumption that the bourgeoisie was inadequate for its own complete revolutionary power and, for this reason, the working class had to complete the bourgeois revolution on behalf of the bourgeois class before its pure socialist struggle to be able to develop in later phase…

The dialectic holds: there has to be some kind of stability. I propose, like a dogfishBlack as a fisherman’s boot, / with a white belly. Can I offer you this white belly for your synthesis? Much obliged. I am often puzzled when people mention Hegel and Kierkegaard. My favorite is Da-Sein, because I imagine that Heidegger is speaking only to me. I submit my corpse to your care: being-for-others (how long since I have typed those words!). I like Ms. Oliver, too, because she seems so calm. And she seems to be teasing me: And you know / what a smile means / don’t you?

I don’t. But I know of visceral reactionsI can and will take comfort, so succinctly found exactly where the world is sharp. Shire tells me: the phone ringing is your own fault, because you are capable of making a call on your own. But unlike her little girl, you can follow contours. The straight lines on the sides of your nose; sloping mountains; curved cheekbones; cupid’s bow. No one is naked, or bleeding on the floor. But one thing you are allowed to agree on:
you lick your lips, you taste like years of being alone.

Fall short, fail miserably. The only excuse is to be Jack, and invoke Icarus. But no, thank you. Learn to construct continuity through correspondence:

However true it is that art is no replica of the subject and that Hegel was right in his criticism of the popular idea that the artist must be more than his work–for not infrequently he is less, the empty husk of what he objectivated in the work–it holds equally true that no artwork can succeed except to the degree that the subject gives it shape from out of himself. It is not for the subject, as the organon of art, to overleap the process of divine inviduation that is imposed on him and not a matter of opinion or accidental consciousness. This situation therefore compels art–as something spiritual–to undergo subjective mediation in its objective constitution.

Consider–your mornings: structure. The research: construction.

I already told you: I am running a marathon: I can throw it away. For all you know, I commit myself to a progress chart every night. What happens between me and development is meaningless. It tastes like honey. I can throw it away.

or more than this

learn to wait for–

The Memory of Slowly Reading: Returning to The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

It’s been a little more than seven months since I last wrote about Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, and to be honest, the memory of the book is now more sentimental and distant, if more complete than detailed.

Since that last entry, I’ve finished other books. At the same time, the feeling of being harried and having to slow down to enjoy written language has, for the most part, also faded. It’s a necessary outcome, I think, of being relieved for the moment of day-to-day tasks, and being allowed to schedule the day as I please.

But now I realize that the reason I love(d) The Well of Loneliness so much is because it is starkly different in thought and crafted world than the one I am used to. It’s not merely that this is an early work that explores the dimensions of lesbianism, the kind that also acknowledges the complexity of dressing after one’s own flair (not to mention one’s own innate, non-binary sexuality), but that its editorialized narration touches, I realize now, on a historical context broader than previously imagined.

What Stephen Means

There comes in every narrative a complete change of events. Especially in a novel, it sometimes seems insufficient to call this a turning point. In terms of character, particularly in the case of Hall’s Stephen Gordon, the death of a beloved, occurring in a place like Morton, a place that is so dear so as to seem alive in itself, the change becomes palpable because so much of it has to do with its impact on Stephen’s psyche.

But of course, we are tempted to think, obviously Stephen’s character cannot be pinned down, cannot be simplified by the death of another character, since she herself sticks out like a sore thumb in her textual world. Rightly so: named after the boy she was thought to be in the womb, loved by her father and allowed, for the most part, to ride like a man, dress like a man, and learn as much as she can as any son would, her pains are also uniquely multi-dimensional. Her desire for human interaction, coupled with her fear that she is being jeered at behind her back, the crippling awkwardness that haunts her in social gatherings, becomes identifiable and relatable because it transcends the concept of sexuality but is distinctly brought about by it; simultaneously, however, it is something which, presumably, readers have experienced in their own lives.

But it is betrayal and distance that endears Stephen to us.

A Mother’s Discourse

Literature has always managed, in one form or another, to express failure, and to express it as pain. If one is realistic enough about Stephen’s story (unlike, I admit, me), then one can perhaps foresee where the narrative road was inevitably going to bend for her. However, Stephen’s painful relationships with two women are preceded by the one great failure to launch a steady, loving relationship with her mother.

Still, the pain comes because this failure has not come about for lack of trying. This is what makes Anna Gordon such a fraught character to behold. We want her–of course!–to be the loving, perfect mother, and so does she. Together, we want her to embody the ideal mother who would consider sexuality as only another aspect of her child to love without further worry. Yet at the crucial moment that Stephen’s love for Angela Crossby is revealed, the revelation itself being a betrayal, Anna proves ruthless. One becomes certain, at that point, that her intolerance of Stephen is borne not so much because she would spare her child the cruelty of society, but because she herself cannot bear its shame, and further because her daughter’s existence defies all her personal beliefs.

What do we gain, then, from a story which never held much hope for the mother-daughter relationship in the first place? Perhaps nothing? Thematically speaking, the cooling relationship between mother and daughter substantiate the coming of age of Stephen. This is not just because she and Anna are left to deal with each other after her father’s death, but because their failure to communicate with one another signifies the change of relationship between Stephen and Morton, which, for most of the story (despite its increased absence during the rest of the novel) remains the ideal safehouse, the loveliest of childhood homes for our protagonist. With Phillip Gordon’s passing, Morton becomes a distant memory, an unlikely refuge because it is now the threshold of Anna, who cannot stomach the thought of what Stephen has become.

Stephen’s relationship with Angela, on the other hand, is a little more stereotypical than I would have preferred, but, becomes of interest when considered with Stephen’s relationship with her father.

Forms of Departure and Betrayal

It is the mark of a great work, I would think, to court hope at the same time that it can hint at impending tragedy. Early on in the novel, it is clear that Phillip understands his daughter’s predicament; that, although he fears for her, he would at least negotiate a possible existence for her which would allow her to earn income, live comfortably, and prove her worth to the world through talent and learning if not by conventional sexuality. Again and again he does for his daughter the parental duties that Anna cannot fulfill not merely because she is a woman but because, the reader suspects, she is not eager to shoulder such a responsibility for a daughter like Stephen.

But the tragedy of Phillip is that his actions are ultimately incomplete. For, in all the moments he could have spoken for Stephen, could have said the words that no one else dared speak about her, he remains silent, until eternal quietude claims him, and leaves his daughter alone. The harsher pain, of course, comes only later, when Stephen discovers that her father knew about her all along–knew too well the deeper reason behind her manly clothes, her awkward demeanor, her excellent hunting skills.

On the other hand, Angela Crossby’s betrayal is one of words rather than silence. To be honest, I could not read the novel without developing an initial preference for Angela, and any realization after finishing the novel that there is something distasteful in her character is an afterthought. I love her character because it stands for Stephen’s first foray into loving another woman, but I cringe at the thought of her because her relationship with Stephen, though perhaps necessary, feels to me like the common trope of a doomed first love, especially since theirs is none other than an affair.

When Angela’s husband writes to Anna about Stephen, there can only be relief that her relationship with Angela is over, although the reader, at the time of reading about the confrontation between mother and daughter, can only fear it.

But see, this is why Stephen’s experience cuts across so well: because in her is realized the pain that is substantiated by personal betrayal both romantic and filial, where at one point it becomes impossible to distinguish from where the most hurt comes.

The Potential World

It’s easy enough to believe that Stephen’s world is not one that we’d like to live in. I don’t know if there’s something about classics, though (and I haven’t read enough of them, honestly, for this to merit any kind of considerable weight, since I am basing this on the few I’ve read), that makes me believe that maybe, just maybe, I can live in that kind of world, if only I can momentarily forget the hygienic risks. It is a beautiful world, after all. And that, I think, is part of what endears this work to me, too.

The Villa del Ciprés was a low stone house that had once been tinted a lemon yellow. Its shutters were greener than those on the hill, for every ten years or so they were painted. All its principal windows looked over the sea that lay at the foot of the little headland. There were large, dim rooms with rough mosaic floors and walls that were covered by ancient frescoes…however, they were all so badly defaced…the furniture, although very good of its kind, was sombre, and more over it was terribly scanty…But one glory the old house did certainly possess; its garden, a veritable Eden of a garden, obsessed by a kind of primitive urge towards all manner of procreation, It was hot with sunshine and the flowing of sap, so that even its shade  held a warmth in its greenness, while the virile growth of its flowers and its trees fave off a strangely disturbing fragrance. (Hall 362-363)

Of course the wonder of such a world only becomes clear because Stephen and her newfound love Mary Llellwyn have survived the war; because Stephen’s new raison d’être has become a personal mission to protect Mary and give her every happiness possible. This is what differentiates her love for Mary from that for Angela; whereas the latter involved secrecy and self-destruction, the former, however bright and new, faced Stephen with another impossibility. Refreshing but harsh in its reality, the truth of the matter was that she could not keep Mary forever if she was also to offer her the kind of life that she could enjoy–one that included the company of friends, the welcoming arms of society, the security brought about by a loving community–all impossible in the novel’s context and in Stephen’s love.

The world they lived in was beautiful, true, but only because such beauty, for the likes of Stephen and Mary, could not be fully achieved or realized.

The Why of Sacrifice

Fiction, I’ve been told, is a matter of what happens after a character makes a choice. For all that there was something innocent and therefore seemingly worthy of being preserved in the world as built by Stephan and Mary, the story would have amounted to nothing if Stephen had not made a choice to resist its impasse.

But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t upset with Stephen’s decision. That I didn’t fret when I realized that at page 507 out of a total 527, something inevitable though vague was about to descend upon them. That I wasn’t angry at Stephen for taking matters into her own hands and deciding everything with an almost demented finality.

Without saying it in so many words, this so-called salvation that Stephen brings about, at the risk of her own self, cannot be celebrated without cheapening the tension that gave birth to the novel in the first place, that stubbornness that is human bigotry. Instead, though the novel be lovely and worth many more slow reads, what occurs in its pages, the heartbreak Stephen undergoes–all these cannot to be celebrated. Instead, they must be deplored. That, perhaps, is where the well of loneliness will always be found.

A chapter I enjoyed

A chapter I enjoyed

And thereafter?

What else, but the hope that the world outside the novel can offer, does offer, something better.

A Letter to My Exhausted Self

In recent years, I’ve used the term “body politics” to cover a number of things. Of course this isn’t me claiming I’ve come up with the term; this is simply me wondering where I’ve gone wrong, and how psychosomatic pain has become a reality of which I speak, as much lived in as thought of and talked about.

At the last leg of the school year, an unexplained pain in my forearm resulted in elastic bandage for a week or two, just when I had bagged a terribly long freelance job and had told myself the struggle was enough and necessary, and that I could do all of that.


What looks a little cool the first time, around, till it itches and you just want to do without.

But the concern came when, after the recommended time, I removed the bandage but the pain came back. A series of unfortunate, blurred events: eventually we went to the doctor for an x-ray, but nothing suspicious was found. The words carpal tunnel had been thrown about, but I was unwilling to accept it, and even the doctors I talked to ruled it out. Could it be all the typing, I asked, and one of them said, Perhaps. Sometimes it has to do with the nerves in the fingers. They get tired.


Even today, months after I’ve taken the second bandage out, the pain flickers, just to remind me that it can still come back. I conduct exercises now, after long bouts of typing, and thankfully the pain is never as bad as it was. Meanwhile, I hear the same from friends as they go about their own tasks: the headaches, the changes in cycle, the inability to sleep, even when tired.

Again and again, the doctors tell us: Stress, stress. You’re too stressed out.


It is only in the last two years that emotional stress has manifested in physical pain. Before that, I used to read about women in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and wondered all the characters who came down with brain fever, having worried themselves out. Meanwhile, all around me I heard from friends who couldn’t muster the day ahead because of harrowing loneliness. I wondered at all of that, at the possibility, because it all seemed unreal.

Of course, that was all it took for it to start happening to me.


You can change what you want about yourself at any time. You see yourself as someone who can’t write or play an instrument, who gives in to temptation or makes bad decisions, but that’s really not you. It’s not ingrained. It’s not your personality. Your personality is something else, something deeper than just preferences, and these details on the surface, you can change anytime you like.

If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it’s the only way. – Julien Smith, The Flinch


I want to tell someone (not a particular person, not someone, but anyone): You don’t understand. I take things slowly, I digest life one thing at a time. My whole life I’ve felt that everyone else grows by leaps and bounds. Of course this is an illusion, a story I’ve learned to tell myself. But all of it seems too real when I consider my snail-paced self. But what I want to say is that it took me forever to figure things out. And if I refuse to say anything, it is not so much a matter of distrust than the fact that I would like to keep things a little longer, to myself, to protect it from external doubt. The truth is, I took my time, I lazed around. I talked of words, and used words, but in practice I held everything back.


Always, always: it’s the little things all throughout.

I want to tell myself: You’re on your way up. The glasses of water, the pictures you took, the changes in the rooms you move in, none of them are empty signs. Keep drinking water. Cut down on caffeine. Read anything and everything. Put a book down as soon as you realize it’s not what you like. Choose company wisely. Look for recipes online. Write them down on your journal. Try them out. Study anything and everything that interests you, and learn to love yourself and your capacity to learn all this stuff. If you must spend money, then fine, but get rid of that sickening self-righteous guilt afterwards. Rearrange your space. Fangirl, fangirl, fangirl. Write even when you don’t feel like it. Update your blog when you feel like it’s time. The type of content and the number of hits you get matters less than the emotional and spiritual exercise it will give your heart. Sleep, sleep; when all seems lost, just sleep.


This is not late blooming. This is blooming on your own time.

Now for some notes in true non-sequitur form; I’ve been neglecting this blog, so to compel myself to get things done I might as well put some things down here:

– Part II of my The Well of Loneliness review

– Thoughts on fantasy (genre) and teaching fantasy

– Part II of my thoughts on Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves (Jeez, how long as it been?!)

– Critical thoughts on some trends in social media

And I will see you all again soon enough.

Just One Footnote–

Writing these days is difficult, not because there’s nothing to write but because there is excess, and if the cut-and-dried years have taught me anything, it is that excess is good for nothing. Deadlines are things I can only dread, but I would be dumb to discredit them and ask for a piece of comfort in return. In the last three years alone I have molded tone, style, voice to suit wherever the page was meant to be printed–on the screen, on paper, on a notebook I keep for myself.

E v e r y t h i n g.

Not many people will tell you it’s hard work. This is not a defense of the craft or the elevation of so-called art. It is the confession that I am still trying to justify to myself, perhaps, why I am so hard on this person called me. Every writer has her favorite mistake. Well! Written like that it sounds enchanting! Something you’d put in a love song. A line from a movie you’ll never forget. What you won’t know until you’re old enough, viable and diable, is that what you love will slowly cease to be a division between work and play. In equal measure, your words will stand before you: things you submitted, typographic errors, words you wrote down for yourself.

It is necessary, of course, to think of areas in your life. An essay has its own parts. A story has chapters. You have your multiple hearts. There is a dedication you give to your work (your work, I say, not your job). To casual emails, formal messages, the slippery surface of the touchscreen where, for my part, chubby fingers will never on the right key land. There’s the soundbite that only social media can account for, although that is a platform where so few people wish to be accountable. There is the heart I lay bare when, after years of procrastinating I realize that fiction too, is hard work. That people bang their heads on tables to produce words, and out of them plots and themes and characters that you don’t need to find walking out on the street. For you can find them in one of your multiple hearts, where they each play a part.


Is my story a good one? I want it to be. But you know, a large part of you is written by somebody else. On another page. After they’ve already lived their lives. And you are but an afterthought. There must be some caution too, in thinking that you can write your self. I don’t believe you can. Because not all battles are waged or won or lost on the page.

In fact, I think, the challenge is for me to stop. To not write. To let things write me sometimes. I cannot call it breathing, because breathing is writing. You do not stop breathing unless you want to die. I want to call it resting. I want to call it caring. I want to call it, presence, not praiseI want to call it nothing, so that I can have my own space.


In life, you can be given warnings, and the blame is never an easy one, a game that should not even have to be played. She writes:

…he died again. This time, I refused to accept his death because I could still communicate with him and so I asked him if he had, of late, been walking on water or on air, and he answered ‘neither.’ I only began to cry at his funeral, and the mourners, they didn’t know that it was I who made them; it was I who glued dragonflies to the scene and said, ‘you must read his stories.’ I woke because in my dream, I had been crying too profusely. I slept again and this time, I dreamt the dream of his resurrection: he arrived in my mailbox wrapped in his fiction and covered with butterflies. I ran around, shouting, ‘he’s not dead!’ But he is, you see. The dream wants to tell me that he is dead to me. The dream wants to inform me not to be fooled by pretty packages, that in matters of correspondence, the body is tragically absent.

But quite possibly, I think she lied. Or that she has not given me the whole truth. In fiction and footnotes both, we choose only the relevant, and leave the rest of language to a lacuna. I want to tell you: I can write facts. I dabble in fiction. I can escape myself. I want to tell you: it’s okay. Everything is going to be okay. Fiction, or fact?


My baby nephew hugged me around the waist: the first he’s ever done it, the first he’s ever begged anything of me: Sama ako!, he said. Take me with you!

(You will only understand if you have never been anything but the youngest child, if you’ve never had to work for the affection of a young one, only to experience being shunned by tantrums, and then finally, to have the same little one beg something of you, before the disaster comes).


Am I a story, am I a good one?


So you write things. Sometimes fiction. Sometimes criticism! But always a part of yourself. Fact.

How to Persist

From here, it’s strange to commence in a paradox that seems out of the blue, in medias res, when you have no time to start from the beginning. But don’t most stories these days start like this? As though one was born into the world already loaded with chaos. So not knowing where to begin, I begin where I am, so far from when I made plans.

I have often found that it’s easier to close things: to draw the line, to take a step back and say, Huh, I wish I’d known that sooner, or to breathe a sigh of relief. These are the things I pay for in order to achieve comfort: a sense of urgency that nearly chokes me; the sleepless nights and facial acne; the somber, heavy exhaustion; the volatility that does not so much sporadically fire me up as it builds over time to consume me slowly, until body politics demand my attention and atonement.

It is easier to toil at the beginning, feel confused in the middle, and then to turn weary before working for inspiration again–and then, finally, to work in just one more word, squeeze in extra correspondence, lose sleep just one more time, before one realizes that the moment has passed.

When I put pen to paper, and then fingertips to keyboard, I measure pages of my fiction: one page in a notebook can hardly cover a page on Microsoft Word. One must be subtle but honest. If there is no time for a plot diagram, you must plot it in your mind and ensure yourself that this is a living, breathing thing, this fiction of yours: Is there a point at the end you must write towards right now? How did one scene, between the lines, outside of the main plot, lead to trouble that constitutes the next arc? And so on and so forth…

(Never again will they be able to doubt that fiction is the easier lie, that real life rarely has plans for you though you may plan for it with all your might, for all that you are a blind woman climbing a mountain from the start)

But these small, cryptic things you will figure out:

  • There is no way out but through. And though you may cry, or struggle, or want to run away, somewhere, somehow, you will realize that the desire to survive is the same desire that means Go on, nudge things and watch them move, and even as you make decisions every hour, every day. And eventually you will learn that
  • Some things don’t need to be said. Or proven to others, because you already know them as true for yourself.
  • The people who matter will be happy for you. And they will show it–in all seriousness over coffee, while the papers are being checked, while the phenomenon of “adulting” looms over the horizon, you will pick them out, smartly and discreetly, and they will come bearing gifts of laughter and clever words, the concept and reality of food, looming, always, just over the horizon, and when the time is right,
  • All the pretty things will come to you, if you let them. Understand that organizing your environment–even the simple decision to never leave your room or cubicle before arranging it in the smallest way (it may make only a small difference to them, but it will mean the world to your heart) will lift the burden from your shoulders, not completely, but just enough. But remember:
  • Begin as you mean to finish. Don’t worry about strangers you must cross paths with. Admit your mistakes, then let them simmer. You will drink this tea and find it more refreshing than the words you’ve had to pull yourself through, than all the nights you suffered when no one offered to listen and you were to scared to ask.

“It’s easy to feel uncared for when people aren’t able to communicate and connect with you in the way you need. And it’s hard not to internalize that silence as a reflection on your worth. But the truth is that the way other people operate is not about you. most people are so caught up in their own responsibilities, struggles, and anxiety that the thought of asking someone else how they’re doing doesn’t even cross their mind. They aren’t inherently bad or uncaring – they’re just busy and self-focused. And that’s okay. It’s not evidence of some fundamental failing on your part. It doesn’t make you unloveable or invisible. It just means that those people aren’t very good at looking beyond their own world. But the fact that you are – that despite the darkness you feel, you have the ability to share your love and light with others – is a strength. Your work isn’t to change who you are; it’s to find people who are able to give you the connection you need. Because despite what you feel, you are not too sensitive or too needy. You are thoughtful and empathetic. You are compassionate and kind. And with or without anyone’s acknowledgement or affection, you are enough.” — Daniel Koepke

  • Always tell a story. Even when you don’t believe in your own words just yet. Because what not enough people have told you, in all your twenty six years, is that
  • Hard work consists mainly of…well, hard work. And surprisingly? The knowledge and self-proof you have that you worked hard on something–not just (non)fiction or research or the day-in, day-out of jobs–will not be in the finished product alone. And it will be enough to convince you that you have given the world something important. You have given the world a part of yourself.

I could tell you much more, but I’ve said enough. Yesterday it was December and now it’s April, the cruelest month. But you know what? Today, this morning, I have found that the day’s cruelty is nothing more than my own potential.

“How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.” – David Foster Wallace

The Nowadays of Unease

My father’s stories always make me uncomfortable.

These are usually told during mealtime, with his much-needed clearing of the throat, or random bursts of coughing which irk us, because we never know why he always needs to cough while speaking, and because most times he forgets to cover his mouth.

Only for meals outside of home: consent to sit elsewhere, but still always beside my mother

Only for meals outside of home: consent to sit elsewhere, but still always beside my mother

But the discomfort that I feel–youngest daughter, who upon reaching the earliest possible age that allowed her to argue back, insisted that she sit between her mother and father at the dinner table no matter what–goes beyond that, into the realm of the unsaid. There has always been the fact of the unspeakable in my father’s past, because it is something which, aside from being removed from me in time, tells of a life that the rest of us, my two older brothers and my mother, would rather forget. Poverty is something I designate with the masses; I insist, like the rest of my class, with what little privilege we have (but privilege nonetheless) that it must be alleviated.

But also when I say poverty and look out the car window and pretend not to see the leering faces of truck drivers, when I read real-life rags-to-riches stories or hear friends talk about their parents and their younger days, I always somehow think of my father, so that my throat and chest meet to constrict in ways cruel to my breathing. I dare not think of my father sleeping underneath the trucks he had to drive, or his boyhood days spent crafting cars from random materials because he didn’t have manufactured toys, or his having to give up college so that a younger sibling could go to school instead–indeed I do not dare, but it does not matter, because these are the images that stay with me anyway.

Sometimes when, in a blinding rage and having fallen victim to some personal injustice, I allow myself to think of my father as the solid figure of my childhood: with fitted shirts and thick sideburns and his own short version of the vernacular balbas-sarado, walking around the house with fists clenched and barking in anger at the smallest movements–one answered a question in a disrespectful tone, or forgot to seal a bottle; one arrived five minutes later than promised or couldn’t memorize a phone number as instructed.

A moment of pretension: there exists, too, the image of him behind the steering wheel; we’ve taken a U-turn where there is none, or we’ve been caught out on a day when the numbers on our plate say we should have taken other means to get where we need to be. Then the stiff, baritone of anger fades into illusion, as though my entire childhood were a lie. But this is not pretension, I think, this moment when he lowers his window and talks to the MMDA officer, who informs him of the mistake. My father really is apologetic; he really does not mean any harm. But he also knows the advantage of age, although perhaps not fully–how it has dressed to acquire his face which has now become smaller, with sallow cheeks and too-sharp bones. There is always a veil of exhaustion on my father’s face now, and his stomach has grown, while his arms appear weaker and softer. Altogether, something in his posture has changed in a way that cannot be anchored by the dead weight of language. But I have chosen to say posture because he holds himself much the same way he did when he was younger: proud and defensive, always suspecting that the other might throw the punch first. But watching him walk from behind, or clutching his arm as we cross the street, a fierceness takes hold of me, part confusion but also firmness, the way one fears a bonfire but wants to keep it burning.

At what point does the need to be protective transfer to the child, from her mother or father? When does a child realize that departure from home translates to leaving one’s parents unprotected? Sad? Together and alone?


I’m getting too old for this, I think, largely, about everything these days: Coffee with friends after work? Negative. Last full show of the latest critically-acclaimed film? God, no. An all-nighter on the same day that I woke up before 7AM to keep up with the mounting pile of work? I’d rather die. And on the other hand, to be filled with youth: to have passed the stalwart fragility of teenage years; to smile and shrug, helpless and apologetic for one’s early twenties when bravado and insistence on adulthood came in waves of infinite determination followed by spaces of ennui on one’s first job and the blank-faced awareness of logging onto social media only to see that one’s peers have become successful–to know, at this point, that sometimes the best approach really is to keep one’s head down; to reveal secrets like rare currency, to be shared on the black market with a network of agents who deal in the same emotional lacuna but who brighten at the mention of cheap thrills you like to call indulgence; to understand that working hours are an excellent derivative of opium, but that at the same time one must count the breaths taken between and tally them up to understand the depth of dissatisfaction with oneself and then wonder, automated, “What’s next on the to-do-list?” In other words: Not old, not young, my favorite writer says, but a viable-diable age.


Where does the disparity come from? I remember when I couldn’t imagine a boudoir of my own, when playtime meant I could climb on the office chair (or perhaps it was another kind? I remember we only moved an office chair in there sometime in my high school years) in front of my mother’s dresser and play with her jewelry, and take in the fragrance of her cosmetics which were, of course, really her own smell. Even now I know it: something soft and hidden, gathering years–although it was always new back then, because in those days my mother hadn’t yet sacrificed her career for us. In those days she still wore high heels and walked around Makati as easily as she now navigates, with her weak knee, the memorized paths of our small home–from the bedroom, down to steps and into the kitchen, from the kitchen through the dining room and into the sala, back to the kitchen, until night falls and she must rest after all she has done.

These days I have my own dresser, of strange varnished wood that smells sour even though it was bought years ago, and if my cosmetics and toiletries, my blush-on and lotions, my bottles of perfume have lent it a distinct smell, I can only tell you that sitting beside my bookshelf, it suffers the necessary inheritance of burden: dusty books I love and  tried to re-read but failed to, in pursuit always of new things to read in the conviction that re-reading, once a favorite activity, now translates to a waste of time, a kind of fear of missing out; earrings I always promise myself I’ll store in their proper little jewelry boxes but which get lost eventually, falling to the floor and never to be found again; dirty mugs and glasses when I come home for weekends and drink myself to caffeine death chasing deadlines.

My whole life my father has scolded me about clutter. Surprisingly, this is one of the characteristics of my childhood that was not dictated by sex–my thanks to one older brother who, in his whole life, has also manifested the talent for living in complete disarray. But these days when, at home, I walk around the house with dark circles under my eyes, thinking of words I must write and meetings that clash with the precious time I would have wanted to dedicate to much needed cramming, my father keeps his silence, and on the days when I am away my mother tells me he goes into my room: not to revel in the disappointment of a messy daughter, but to clean up after me; indeed, to pick up the dirty clothes I’ve discarded in my rush to return to my life in the north. To fold the blanket I’ve tossed under, worried and sleepless the entire night. To gather the books and papers I’ve read through and stacked together in an order that makes sense only in the time I don’t have to arrange them. To do all this without complaint.

Nowadays he tells me not to rush; to take it easy and make sure to eat a lot when I’m away. Now he tells me, in moments when I want to give up on this much-acclaimed path to higher education and another thesis, to be thankful and to calm down–to adjust to those whose way of thinking can expect no more progress, because I am the one capable of change.

But no, I think. Change happens to all of us. There comes a point in our lives when change is no longer a matter of wanting to turn the proverbial leaf but a matter of Margaret sitting in front of her laptop on a Sunday evening crying, aware of the onslaught of the coming weeks and wondering why no one ever bothered telling her that by blight they really meant formless terror, the kind that hovers in the peripheral, always uncertain and so bound to happen and take shape when you least expect it. Nobody bothers to say that by blight they also mean the forgotten paper clip as much as the chance cab taken to work. Nobody bothers to teach the child that once was that it is the sharing of eyebrow pencils between mother and daughter, or the pain of her first real death–the mother of a mother–is heavier and more haunting than any heartbreak.


Several conversations in the course of perhaps only a few weeks have helped to form this personal compulsion, which is precisely what I hadn’t been wont to feel when it comes to writing lately. That’s the necessary collateral, probably, when you make your so-called passion your a means of living, although to say so here is of course, only a minor but necessary diversion.

One fangirl moment which is unique in that I feel I do not have to defend my literary politics or whom I associate with: months ago I thought that perhaps to finally enjoy my labor would paradoxically require some sacrifice. One Saturday, I thought; I can sacrifice one Saturday and attend a symposium on a critic I may never get this close to again, whose work I have read my entire life and with whom, at least internally, I feel I can manage to disagree with as I discussed him with my peers, imagining myself to be in the best formative years of my writing, no matter how illusory that “now” as the very moment may finally become.

It was a day, I think, of a generation I had much admired, and still do, in the only way that someone in my current age and position can admire them while looking at the crisis of my own times. It was a day of recognizing, not for the first time, that I admire old men the way I think about my father and the ghost of two grandfathers I never had the chance to meet. That is, with fascination and faint despair, and so therefore always, always, with sadness.

That day his wife talked about Escolta, and I found I could finally drop everything else I was tasked to do on a working Saturday and truly listen–the way that, lately, I can recognize discomfort over a meal and listen to a story and enjoy both, although not always with equal measure. My father grew me up on these stories which are horrible not because they were sad, or even because they are about him in particular, but because I can read nothing from them except nostalgia. But from the moment he started that habit he also ingrained in me the ability to read him between the lines of other people’s stories, so that when she, late in the afternoon begins to speak of old Manila I cannot help but remember my father and whatever errands he once ran there as a young man, or how he knows every nook and cranny and at seventy can still take public transportation or drive me around where I need to be, taking short cuts along side streets I wouldn’t trust were I with anybody else, only to re-emerge, sighing and relieved,  in the middle of EDSA or somewhere along Makati Avenue.


Discomfort in your own home is so ridiculous because you feel like you don’t deserve it, but also because it rightly belongs only to you. Sadness exists in the narratives that you don’t recognize as your own until somebody else mirrors them and confirms: Those stories of your father are true. They are real; I was there too.

Memory triggers.

Memory triggers

Pagsasarili: Sa Diskurso ng Disiplina at Pakiki-EDSA

Sometimes, it does happen: perhaps where fiction and reality intersect before creative license is fully awakened, one does realize something. For instance: that the desire to acquire years, as a real yearning, a kind of hunger made worse because nothing can substitute for it, was also a desire for validity. Being young offers very little power, except in the advent of privilege, born with a silver spoon. But when born the youngest you are given, without even your consent, the same significance as fancy drapery.

Home where the questions lie. Image credit: blogger's own.

Home where the questions lie. Image credit: blogger’s own.

The desire for years then, accumulated, collectively adulthood, is the desire for validity: not merely to be given the chance to speak, but to be heard without the incredulous look which accompanies surprise when it is realized that whatever silence an individual was forced to hide under was exactly that: imposition and not some inborn ability that just so happened to be convenient for the world hereafter.

So then, the question: how and why does she choose to be silent?

I have been taught the value of words–that though I may falter in stringing sentences together and the syntax may puzzle me as any language will do, I must say my piece; that though it has been said before in different forms and varying degrees of eloquence, the configurations must find their way out of my mouth.


But not enough people said, You need a little bit of silence as well. One is allowed this incognito space: to speak publicly and loudly, to laugh and jibe when it is necessary, or even just because. But one is allowed to use incognito space to mull over, by herself, the doubts she has about the very ruptures presented to her:

Sa ingay ng apat na pu’t apat na pagkamatay, sa dami ng mga tanong na hindi sa kanya, sa bilis ng mga sanaysay at pag-uusap tungkol sa kung sino ang may karapatang magsalita at sino’ng hindi, sa maya’t mayang pag-aaway sa social media at sa mga hinahabol na salitang binibitiwan sa mga munting sandali na may pagkakataong pag-usapan ang pagluluksa, sa mabigat na katahimikang dumidiin sa kanya, maari rin naman niyang tanunging: kailan pa naging mali na magbigay-opinyon ang isang artista, kung ang opinyon na ito ay tungkol sa pamhalaaang sanay dapat ay pinagkakatiwalaan? Kailan pa nawala sa katiwalian ng pag-iisip na ang tamang gawin ay hindi panoorin ang karumal-dumal, hindi lamang dahil maaaring may dala itong virus kundi dahil ito ay kawalan ng paggalang sa namatay at namatayan? Ngunit higit sa lahat, ang mga tanong na ito:

Kailan pa naging pana-panahon lang ang pakikibaka? Bakit may mga namamataan sa Facebook newsfeed na pakikidalamhati sa bayan kung kailan lang maraming nakakasabay? Sa kabilang palad, bakit may mga kilala siyang tao na ipinagmamalaki ang kawalan ng pakialam? Ngunit pag kausapin mo naman tungkol sa mga isyu na ito, ay may opinyon naman pala? At bakit, sa panahong napakaraming maaaring gamiting paraan upang matuto, marami ang kikiling sa pinakamadaling paraan upang maintindihan ang isang pangyayari–at sa salitang Pranses pa!

Credit: Art from Elena Georiou at

Credit: Art from Elena Georgiou at

But what needs to be said before others find the gaps in the questions, before the mask of hypocrisy and intellectual snobbery are used, gunpoint, to threaten these questions, is that before even the thought of malice or prejudice can be attributed to such questions, the primary concern is to ask these out of curiosity: yes, age allows for validity, or at least a smidgen of it, but it too allows for cynicism. What has had the ability to surprise, in the last couple of years when maturity seemed both forced and rushed (and yet viewed as that cliche, being on the cusp of something), however, is that even basic questions have a place in the grand discourse. And if it may seem judgmental or naive that she ask such questions, perhaps better, at least, for her to have a clearer idea of where people are coming from and why: for to ask means not to belittle intention or personhood. To ask is to give the other the chance to speak. For to be silenced is to be oppressed; and on the other end, to be taken point blank is either a motion of trust or (as in this case), to be endangered–taken as flat, singular, with nothing relevant or meaningful even, to say.


I want to tell you: discipline, too, is vigilance. That even when I rejoice in your triumph and listen to so-called intellectual discourse around me (that, even when I choose to be silent at least it is a choice to listen), I also wonder where we have failed and where we are satisfied to simply praise these sporadic instances of rebellion-resistance:

Kung kaya naman pala nating ipaglaban ang karapatang magmahal ng kahit sino at kahit paano sa kay-laki-laking mga billboard, dapat kayanin din nating aminin na tayo rin ang gumawa ng paraan na maisantabi ang marami sa atin pagdating sa pagkatawan. Yun mismo ay interesanteng sailita: pagkatawan–hindi lamang ang simpleng Ingles nitong katumbas na “representation”–ngunit dahil higit sa lahat ang pakikipaglaban sa mga imahe na pumapaligid sa atin ay pakikipaglaban upang ilantad ang katotohanan sa likod ng katawan: na ang diskurso ay ‘di lamang tungkol sa pagmamahal sa sarili tapos magpaliit ng braso o pagpapaputi kung hindi dulot mismo ng pagpapahalaga at pagkakaalam na hindi tayo ang kinakatawan ng mga billboard na yan, kahit tayo ang kausap nila; na hindi pagmamalasakit sa ating kasiyahan o kalooban kundi ang kasinungalingang tayo ay isang pagkakamaling maaaring ayusin sa bawat hakbang.

At kung pag-ibig ang diskurso ay hindi ito kailanman kailangang idaan sa kapitalismo o sa paraan ng kagandahan.


On a day that commemorates the first EDSA People Power Revolution, these are the musings that bother me, for in truth and laughter I can tell you frankly that these questions are musings, in the same way that they irritate me like an itch which, precisely, it will take me years to scratch.


This is the personal story I will offer you: that my father had the chance to join the revolution; that he had seen it from afar, from a side street perhaps. He saw the crowds and the tanks from afar. And he left. But what the rashness of youth, that judgment of his acts constituting cowardice would also mean irresponsibility on the part of the young girl who would set such judgment down, in the light of what I have asked for and whatever doubt has instilled in me: perhaps after all one cannot blame those who did not take part, physically, of that one revolution. Because fear of death and pain is real, and the choice of safety has its own wisdom to offer, though it is not perhaps the same kind of wisdom we always wish for ourselves.


I wonder at the sheer powerlessness of my position: when you are told to speak each day and make sure your words are weighted, your silences scheduled. To fell the faces of your audience that this is what matters, and this and this, but that this also matters, such that the world becomes a game of substitution, with nothing at stake. How do you teach them about vigilance when you look at yourself and think: I have not been careful enough.


In the few days before Mamasapano happened, it was easy to use the word vigilanceThese are someone else’s words and any nuance can be defended, discussed, and praised because I love the fact that they have been wrought so precisely by someone else other than me. But what does it mean in my life? As I find I have more questions than answers? What then, when I would rather exchange the nuances of adulthood with that of passive, yet not insignificant acceptance, from the position of the audience?

Now it is no longer easy to say the word. From now on it means persistence. A kind of desire that must be desired even when one does not feel like it. To know that practice will not make perfect until the line that represents horizon disappears completely. To know that fiction and reality are part of her: but that both will require discipline and

(Because I know that these words will mean very little except to a small circle; and that even worst, perhaps it makes sense only to one, and there is no question who she is. But I find that that is discipline, too: to voice out your concerns not just because someone may know exactly what you mean, but because to voice them and set them out in the sphere where they may be criticized is important for you as well, lending what may have been at first mere solipsism a much needed sense of urgency. Ah, now there is something at stake. After all, that is the problem with silence. It is not a permanent place: it is a mere pause, a chance to examine white noise so that, when one re-joins the discourse, one at least is clear–where does she come from and why does she speak? Perhaps for remembrance. For learning. For the fight against self-complacency to continue)

perhaps that is the meaning of revolution. To continue. To discipline yourself. To know that “work” is not “job” is not mere exhaustion. It is a measure of how far you are willing to go, and why; and if the latter poses no plausible answer yet, then to revolutionize also means to seek, and to be pleased, even quietly, that you have one more league to go, when the situation and comforts offered are not enough.

Credit: Art from Emma at

Credit: Art from Emma at

Baka ito na ang ibig sabihin ng pag-memeron. Baka ito rin ay isang paraan ng pakiki-EDSA.


*Note: Full text of Castillo’s poem here.