Thursday, June 26, 2008

She's getting good...

... I mean really good that it's scary

A couple of hours later, after reading 2 of her newest pieces w/c she sent me to comment on, I'm overcome w/ a type of fear I've never known, couldn't have ever preempted.

Maybe after a few minutes, a few hours, days, weeks, lifetimes, I'll send her a message w/ something constructive/critical to say.

As for now, I'm still feeling a bit of the afterglow—while wondering if I should even bother to continue w/ my own stuff.

I won't mention the name. Everyone will know soon enough.

She'll be 1 of the best we'll ever know.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Two emails


Good news from a former professor of mine, rockstar historian Ambeth Ocampo:

"On June 26 I will be conferred the rank of 'Officier' in the Order of Arts and Letters by the Republic of France. Unfortunately, I will not be flown to Paris for this; and the medal will be pinned on me by the Ambassador of France to the Philippines.

"The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Literature) is one of the four ministerial orders of the Republic of France. Since 1957 it remains one of the principal honorific distinctions awarded by the French Minister of Culture and Communication on persons who have distinguished themselves in the arts and literature or the propagation of these fields in France and worldwide.

"Given out twice a year, the Order has three grades: the first rank, Chevalier, up to 200 recipients a year, the second rank Officier, up to 60 recipients a year worldwide and the highest Commandeur up to 20 recipients a year worldwide.

"The official letter from H.E. Christine Albanel, Minister of Culture and Communication, was transmitted last April through H.E. Gerard Chesnel, Ambassador of France to the Philippines. The award is given as recognition of my work as: Writer, Academic, Cultural Administrator, and for my support for cultural exchanges between France and the Philippines.

"Other Filipinos previously honored with the Order of Arts and Letters include: Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Rosalinda Orosa, Corazon S. Alvina and National Artists Lucrecia Kasilag, Napoleon Abueva and Arturo R. Luz.

"On June 26 when the medal of gilt-green enamel suspended on a green ribbon with four white stripes is pinned on my barong I join a group of fellow 'knights' worldwide that include: Ella Fitzgerald, Uma Thurman, Leonardo di Caprio, Clint Eastwood, Rudolf Nureyev, T.S. Eliot, Sting, Gong Li, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross, Robert Redford, Kylie Minogue, and Carla Bruni."

Congrats, sir!


I've said it many times before & I'll said it again: the real rockstar of my Creative Writing batch is Jerome Chua, the fictionist & playwright behind more than a few thought-provoking, disturbing if not flat-out cryptic stories, w/c have seen print space in The Philippines Free Press as well as a couple of anthologies including the latest flash fiction collection edited by Vincent Groyon.

His works have also earned him a Loyola Schools Award for the Arts in Creative Writing as well as a fellowship in Australia at an international workshop for playwrights, a gig that allowed for his first staged play, also in Australia, w/c received some attention by the Australian dailies.

I don't like connecting the merit of works w/ the personality behind them but Jerome is quite a character to get to know, as we in his CW block have discovered in the 4 years we've worked/studied alongside him. His emails in our block egroup have become much-talked-about reading w/in our circles, the style of w/c more people got to realize during our individual thesis defense where he, quite frankly, stole the show in his eccentric manner w/c leaves people in the right kind of mix of being amused/creeped-out/fascinated/vulnerable.

Here, I share a less-disturbing note of his, emailed to me recently after I had told him about some of my job options. It is less cryptic than usual, but as witty & poignant as ever:

"No, I have been as if dead. No writing, no reading, no doing anything productive, just living with my parents and mooching up resources. On the other hand, I now have a level 14 Accordion Thief character in Kingdom of Loathing.

"Your job opportunities are bizarre. It's as if the universe has forced you into an archetypal decision between a dry, technical, steady job where you pore through profession-specific jargon and have no relevance outside of your narrow field; or jumping in on the ground floor with a loose coalition of artists who have no real idea what they're doing and hope to somehow make a living at it. If life were an author, it'd be a really ham-handed one with no eye for subtlety.

"My unsolicited advice: take the medical job, go through the daily slog for months on end until you gradually lose faith in your creative abilities and the value of your art, and you begin to feel like just another ultra-specialized drone in the colony who will live and die performing repetitions of this single, empty task. Then, when you're at your most angsty, start neglecting your job and spending all your free time to write the next great Filipino novel. Write on the futility and monotony of life, and pepper the text liberally with medical jargon on all the myriad diseases just waiting to befall the human body, statistical causes of death, detailed descriptions on how every organ in the human body experiences critical failure, etc etc etc; and tie it in metaphorically with the mediocrity of a dead-end job that offers no opportunities for self-actualization and just takes up your time until you die. Then profit!

"I, um, may have missed a step or two somewhere in there. Oh well.

"What's Ateneo like from the other side? My parents were suggesting (among many other things) that I become a teacher. Apparently it is what otherwise unemployed BFA Creative Writing graduates do with their time?

"Congrats on all the career choices and such. I suppose I'll get them eventually. Then again, that was what I was supposing in college."

Wasak! Some dude better give this motherfucker a job (or a book deal) soon!

Good hearing from you, Jerome.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Collared shirt

I was working out of the Fine Arts office the other day, on the computer usually left for faculty members, the Mac to the right of our secretary, Xander. Had asked my 9 Creative Writing seniors to email me 10-pages-worth of their stuff, a sort of diagnosis for me to get a feel for how they all write. In walks Verne, the class beadle; had requested him to drop by, to hand him extra copies of Saturday’s readings. Xander chuckled; I was playing the teacher card to a tee.

On my 1st day in class, I wore a collared shirt to appear somewhat different than my students (something discussed w/ Xander)—my Tribu sandals, my only mini-defiance. When I walked into the classroom, almost all my students were already waiting & I couldn’t help but giggle at the scene. Save for 1 girl, all were either former classmates or former co-members of mine at some student org.

No 1 was openly questioning but I insisted on explaining how I got the gig w/ them. I speak almost embarrassingly about it w/ mentors who are now, apparently, my colleagues.

The other week, I ran into former mentor Ma’am Beni & she asked, “What are you doing here?” I almost answered, “I don’t know.”

When I texted former thesis mentor Larry about getting the job, he replied w/ an evil laugh. When I emailed former teacher Vince to invite him to be a guest panelist in 1 of our in-class workshops, he told me to drop the “Sir” label already now that we were co-workers in a sense.

The Dean for the School of Humanities invited me to be a part of some new 7-man committee addressing “student welfare & development.” The memo had my name alongside a former Philosophy professor of mine, a department chair who had mentored virtually my entire block, & a couple of doctorate degree holders. I was by far the odd 1 out, w/ the 1 teacher closest to me in age having taught many of my friends in my batch. “They’re going to eat you alive,” said Xander.

I went to the university library the other week to have readings photocopied. Still w/ no ID, I was questioned by the guard. “Bagong faculty po ako,” I said, suppressing laughter. Every succeeding trip back sees me bowing my head as I pass by the same guard at the entrance.

I went to the Personnel Office the other day, a place I didn’t know existed. Was there to apply for my faculty ID. There was something so right about the administrators not having my name on their official roster yet.

In most ways I’m still uncomfortable w/ the being-a-teacher thing. Working out of the FA office was my way of feeling unlike an unemployed fresh grad just lying around at home. And so I was reading the works of my students, most of them former classmates. Some of the works I had commented on in my usual unforgiving way in past class workshops in my former life—as their classmate.

But I found myself not wanting to be so dismissive this time, not wanting to be so frank in the notes I wrote on my yellow pad. I found myself jotting down authors each student should look into based on what his/her style was, what she should consider adjusting & revising in their own pieces.

I found myself not reading behind the lens of my own self-centered criteria but w/ the individual in mind, knowing how he/she is like, what moves them, & not taking that away from them in assessing their works. I was praising or gutting the execution of their pieces but I wasn’t questioning the person behind them, ripping them to shreds for choosing the topics that they did.

As a student I would just say my peace & that would be that. Now I actually find myself wanting these individuals to all do well.

Damn, I thought. In that moment, if only in those couple of hours at the FA office just this past Tuesday, in front of the computer reserved only for faculty, I went from the back of the classroom to the front.

* * *

And speaking of teachers, a belated Happy Birthday to Glenn (June 18)!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"That's why a writer writes his memoir... tell a lie and create an ideal self. Everything I’ve ever written is memoir, you know, is an inflated vision of the ideal Platonic self.”

A quote from the late Norman Mailer, taken from this Vanity Fair piece on the controversial James Frey.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


They had left only minutes before, Mom & a couple of my titas—I no longer remember w/c 1s. I had insisted on staying w/ Dad; he had promised himself the afternoon for work.

In a hotel across the street from a Bali beach, Dad started taking out files from his gray leather briefcase. I was pretending to play on the floor, in between the twin beds. I kept looking at Dad, by the desk, engrossed in all the papers, a small desk lamp shining brightly. I rolled my toy truck along the plain of 1 of the mattresses, my mind fixated on what I thought Mom might be doing right now.

Dad checked how I was; I asked if I could play by the hallway. The next thing I remember he took me out the door. I placed my truck on the ledge overlooking the beach across the street, a pool area nearby, just as blue as the ocean. Dad went back inside our room, leaving the door slightly open just in case I needed anything.

For a few minutes I rolled my truck on the rough surface of the ledge, hoping Dad could hear the scraping sound. I then tiptoed to the stairs, & made my way down to the lobby.

I don’t recall how the ground floor looked anymore; I just remember all the tall people. I exited thru the front entrance, & walked toward the street that separated the hotel building & the pool area. One of the tall men walked over. He was wearing a burgundy suit, a tall hat, & a gold whistle around his neck. I remember he smiled as he asked me where I was going, the sun glaring from behind his brown face. I told him the beach. He took my hand, blew his whistle to stop traffic, & guided me to the other side. From there, I found my way to the pool, & saw Mom & my titas lying on lounging chairs.

Mom was surprised to see me, though I don’t remember her appearing all that alarmed. She smiled & had me come sit w/ my titas. She asked me if I had come over all by myself. I told her I did; I could see the man in the burgundy suit from across the street. Mom went to a nearby phone, & I heard her speaking to Dad: “Yeah, he’s here. Yeah, he walked over all by himself.”

By the ledge overlooking the beach, just outside a room in a Bali hotel, a toy truck parked, its owner having left it there. The owner was 4.

* * *

Before there was this & this other thing, you & you, her & her, this person & that, there was...

Happy Birthday, Liana Lim (June 6)!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Clearing the air

Text message: "Youre awake? And on facebook? What's become of the world?" - Marie

Facebook message (according to
April): "Putek. First I checked your blogspot to see if you wrote about how some shmuck created a facebook account using your name, but failed to see said entry. So I found myself adding this "Martin Villanueva" to see if it was really you. Hahaha" - Japs

It's a little absurd but I'm sort of touched by the "concern" expressed by these 2 individuals. At the very least, they serve as proof of the theory that you're closest friends are the 1s who know you best.

To clear the air: Yes, I have a Facebook account now. This doesn't really mean I went against what I said I wouldn't ever do. April created the account behind my back, & up until a few minutes ago, had withheld the password from me.

I won't be deleting the account now that it's made, though it might go unnoticed for weeks at a time. But I guess I'm egotistical enough to find comfort in the fact that my indifferent presence is still being felt in menial ways in venues beyond me.

So add me up. (Is that how you say it?)

* * *

Message left on Multiply: "martin, you dirty bastard. how come you never told me you were going to be the thesis coordinator? i had to find out from rica santos of all people! in the god damn grocery! you owe me a drink." - Cindy

For the record, this all went down just this past Tuesday. One minute I was half-jokingly throwing my name into the mix, the next I was emailing the Fine Arts Program officer-in-charge DM Reyes, & a few seconds later the job was mine.

So yes, I'll be handling half the Creative Writing seniors while they do their thesis/creative projects. Exie Abola is handling the other half. We've already met to discuss syllabus. Yes, I was intimidated & I was quieter & less-arrogant than usual.

Looking forward to the gig. Thanks to Sir DM for the opportunity.

No, this is not full-time. Still looking for another job other than the thesis class, as well as more freelance writing gigs other than the couple that have been thrown my way thus far.

* * *

Overheard somewhere in New Manila: "Hahahahahahahahaha!" - some tricycle driver

Yeah, that was me who bashed his head against the roof of a tricycle somewhere in New Manila last Saturday. Yeah, that was me screaming obscenities. Yeah, that was my trike driver who stopped in the middle of the road to check if I was bleeding. Yeah, the same trike driver who gave me a discount to make up for his not seeing the speed bump on the road.

Do I now have a lump on my head? Yes. Do I still feel pain? Not anymore, though I occasionally have spells of dizziness. No worries. I'll live.

* * *

Everything clear? Record straight? Good.

Viva la truth! (And go Celtics!)