Thursday, July 31, 2008

Who's your audience?

Interesting: When asked who he believes his audience is, if he has an ideal audience, & whether or not this plays into the writing of his poetry, Vince Serrano said he looks at it as having 2 groups/levels of audience. The 1st are the individuals/friends that make up his poet-colleagues, so to speak, w/ whom he exchanges ideas/critiques/insights w/ on a fairly regular basis. The 2nd is the larger audience, w/c stretches beyond the confines of Philippine readers & even those who are still living ("conversing w/ history"), & speaks of a lasting quality, perhaps -- a work-speaks-for-itself intention that we should all strive for in our writing.

Thanks again, Vince, for being our 2nd in-class workshop guest panelist this past week.

And congrats on the Europe gig! Quiapo farewell tour na 'to!

This Saturday's in-class workshop features personal essayist extraordinaire & my predecessor in this crazy gig of mine Rica Bolipata-Santos. Sit-in anyone?

(Photo conveniently stolen from BJ Patino's Flickr.)

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Spilled coffee incident update: I now have a perpetual ant problem at my desk. My co-worker told me that before I got to work yesterday, there were even ants coming out of my laptop. Argh.

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Perpetually late greetings:

Happy Birthday, Yaps (July 24)!

Happy Birthday rin sa partner-in-crime Cindy (July 27)!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In cold blood

(Or how you interview a source whose story is a version of your own.)

You let her speak. You let her go on & on about everything, starting from the very beginning. You need the info anyways. Don't write all the facts, just the 1 you know you might forget -- like the spelling of a name, the acronym for some test you never had. You'll remember the other stuff -- like Stage 3 or We feel very blessed now.

Write the 1st 3 words of quotes you'll use. No use for writing the whole thing. If it's good, you'll remember anyways. The quotes will make your outline.

Things fell apart.

Do I end it na?

I don't know.

She has her feet up on the couch. The son beside her is chiming in -- hospital memories (he was 5 years old then). The toddler's running around; everything is OK. Good. Just let her go on. Nod if you must; keep your eyes on her. Keep the face blank. Make her think you might be interested; make her forget she's talking to you. Just let her. You need the info anyway.

But latch on to the details she brushes over. Not that her husband lost his hair. Not that his family was so helpful. Not that she cleaned the hospital room herself before allowing him to enter.

Hold on to the things said under her breath:

Do I end it na?

Kassandra was only 4 months old.

She's nearing the end of the story, the classic pedestal she's almost atop. You might have even been kind of touched. But hold on...

To Do I end it na? 

To was only 4 months old.

When she's finished, allow a millisecond's afterglow, then ask, firmly: But don't you feel you shortchanged her? You don't even have to point to that precious girl who has been sitting beside you. Don't even have to say her name.

Her mother will break down in front of you. It means you hit her ... & unmasked her.

Then the real story will come, the story that matters. And it hurts. But you're doing your job, you're doing it well, cuz who knows the depth of what she's feeling than you yourself?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why being pa-cute & "helping" doesn't help

In an attempt to be playful, a co-worker accidentally spilled her coffee all over my desk (yes, this MacBook included) & my polo shirt. She was holding on to a cup when she attempted to poke me w/ the same hand, not realizing that she hadn't finished her coffee yet. Of course she apologized; of course I withheld obscenities until I was in the bathroom, cleaning myself. 

I'm interviewing applicants for internships later; good thing my undershirt today isn't really an undershirt, but a decent plain earth-tone T-shirt, which, luckily, matches my pants.

When I went back to my desk, I pulled out all the stops to remove the stickiness & coffee smell -- water, alcohol, Lysol, tissue, rag, & more tissue. Behind my back, as a means of "helping," a co-worker placed a waste basket by my chair so that I could dispose of the used tissue. Not seeing it, I turned & tripped over the thing, almost falling to the floor.

And that was the beginning of my day. How'd yours go?

Monday, July 28, 2008

State of the reading nation

A client requested at least 15 articles; my talented team & I bust out 19. Today, they reject 3, & give their 2 cents: "Although the articles were exquisitely written, I suggest that the composition of the articles be simpler taking into consideration its target audience. Most of the sentences were too long w/c I think makes people lose interest in reading the whole article as it becomes tiring to read. It could also make the sentence quite confusing."

I showed this to my co-worker who has read many of these sentences that're "too long" & "quite confusing." She said, "Wala yan. Kailangan lang nila mag-comment para lang may ginawa sila kunwari."

Now I shall change semi-colons into periods & capitalize the first letter of each 2nd clause -- likely enough to make them think I agreed w/ their comments.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday slowdown

April chillin'. A couple of hours before French onion soup, Caesar salad, & rib-eye steak. Last night: shabu-shabu for Lolo Vic's 86th birthday. Ya, we eat well over at 2708 Dao St. W/c is probably why we're all fat & owe people a lot of money. Guilty as charged. Argh.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Student welfare from 1 FA P.O.V.

As mentioned before, I accepted an invitation extended by the Dean of the School of Humanities to be the Fine Arts Program’s representative in the Committee on Student Welfare & Development.  

During our 1st meeting, amid related recent tragedies in our own home building, we exchanged insights w/ regard to our experiences in encountering students who may be troubled. We, I being by far the youngest & least experienced, were each asked to email some of our program-specific issues to our committee chair. 

I’ve reproduced below an edited snippet of my message. Teachers, students, writers, please feel free to comment as this will be of great help for the committee -- especially for me as “the rookie.”

“Through my limited experience as thesis adviser for the Ateneo CW program (under the Fine Arts Program), the most telling sign of psychological and emotional trouble in students can be seen through the works they submit in class, whether in the form of a literal essay about the issues that bother them or through the aggression and ‘darkness’ in which some students address particular subject-matters in their works. As a product of the Program and a practicing writer, I realize that works can be a creation of the imagination, but it isn't hard to tell when the emotions within the works come from a ‘real’ place -- urgency so raw is hard to make up, even if hidden under the mask of metaphor.

“I believe that this kind of encounter experienced by FA teachers, especially those under CW and Theater Arts, leads us to our biggest dilemma. In the crafts we teach, we have to encourage personal reflection and experience, knowing that this can be the source of ‘powerful art.’ But because we are dealing with young minds/hearts, we deal with experiences unprocessed, scars still raw, which becomes difficult because it can ‘hinder’ our role as teachers of craft. This dilemma is depicted in the following example: A student submits an emotional work about her being abused. It's a bad piece -- grammar problems, structurally flawed, too self-serving, ‘emotional diarrhea’ as a mentor of a mentor of mine would say. So as teachers, we criticize everything that's wrong with the essay. But the student, still young, emotionally immature, has a hard time separating the fact that we are criticizing her writing and not her as a person.

“The issues above are, I believe, problems perhaps faced by all departments, but are especially heightened in the FA, where skill and output is so intertwined with the person. Whereas an accounting teacher can just rely on a student detaching himself from the formulas needed for a test, we in the FA are asking our students to be completely aware of themselves in doing their output, which in itself can be difficult. But we are also asking these young individuals to do something even older writers/artists have problems doing, which is to assess oneself from a reasonable distance in order for the resulting work to have excellence in craft.

“In the FA, a group of mentor-artists bringing up student-artists, there's no institutionalized ‘arm’ or ‘code’ that addresses this. Personally, and I think it's a sentiment most of my colleagues in the Program share, I don't think such a ‘code’ or ‘arm’ benefits the kind of teaching we do -- the teaching of art as craft is quite a different animal than teaching basic English composition. That said, I'm sure a lot of us would like some guidance, for I think there is something to be gained in the form of insight if we knew what a ‘typical institutionalized method’ would have us do in such situations. These insights we could incorporate in our own personal handling of the situations we face.”

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This past Saturday (July 14), my students had the pleasure of having award-winning writer, mentor, & friend Dr. Queena Lee-Chua as a guest panelist in our in-class workshop.

She didn't disappoint. It's funny cuz I've always been quick to praise her since I was in her creative nonfiction class as a sophomore, but I sort of forgot how good she really was.

She was on her game on Saturday, as critical as she needed to be but expressing it in her motherly way -- firm but not demoralizing. And I thought I had to play the "bad cop" role. Not so. 

Had I said some of the things she said, some of my students would've probably given up. But from what I observed, the students got the wake-up call they needed w/out them wanting to throw in the towel. Ang galing.

Have a lot to learn. Ma'am Queena continues to be a model.

Friday, July 11, 2008


My desk at the office is divided into 8 sections. On the top-left corner are 2 books: User-Friendly Marketing Research (from a co-worker) & A Designer’s Research Manual (from my boss). To the left are 2 teaching-related stacks—1 w/ tomorrow’s lesson plan, students’ workshop pieces, & readings waiting to be photocopied, the other w/ notes sent to me about depression & suicide, stuff I’m supposed to familiarize myself w/ as part of a committee for student welfare & development. To the right of these 2 stacks is survival central: hand wash, bottled water, a mug, a pack of instant coffee, & a box of tissue (no beer; I’m not cool). Below this area is where a printout of my latest short story (finished yesterday) awaits revising. Below it is where my elliptical mouse is, along w/ the iPod, cellphone charger, McDo tissue, & old 7-11 plastic bags. To the left is where MacBook sits, to its left my planner (yes, I use a planner now), a pen, a Sharpie, & a my cellphone, all on top of a printout of  my freelance assignment from a magazine. Above this section, right below where all the marketing books are (everyone still w/ me), are 2 books about the printing process/business, draft proposals I’ve been working on (to be presented to the DOT some time in August), the resumé of a writer I’m going to hire for a project, & Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon (w/c I like & plan on finishing tonight). The point is I’m juggling many things but I find myself bored w/ nothing to do right now cuz I’ve done everything that needs to be done for the week—so bored that I’m describing the 8 sections of my desk. (Is it really 8? I lost count.) I must be either good at handling all this or everything I’ve done so far is subpar. Work picks up next week when I start interviewing interns for my project team. As for now, easy muna.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Live pilot feed from work

I like to tell people that I think I'm averse to anything cool. April said of my new shoes, "I want to burn them," & of the polo shirts my tita bought me, "You have no sense of style." Point proven.

But this is being written live from the offices of an upstart creative think tank, buried in the far corner of a warehouse along Edsa where tens of sweaty workers run the machinery of a printing press shirtless.

Yes, this is the proverbial 1st-blog-entry-at-new-workplace. I'm writing it on the new MacBook my boss gave me; I am the only writer of the bunch, the only 1 who supposedly has to have his computer w/ him as I go about interviewing clients & conduct field research.

This is the coolest I'll ever be. (But my students think I'm charming; at least I got that going for me.) 

Around me, 4 artists play w/ their new widescreen Mac joints, throwing ideas around for rendering our maiden design project. I'm sitting here just waiting for my boss to drop by, to have him approve a story list I came up w/ for the project aforementioned.

After work I meet a student in Cubao for a consultation about 1 of her essays. Tomorrow morning I pick up my free copy of the magazine that interviewed me, & hopefully the checks for articles I wrote for them. Then my boss & I drive up to somewhere -- both w/ our laptops, only he wearing shades cuz I don't want to be cool -- to hopefully close another deal w/ another prospective client.

Somewhere in between those things, a short story of mine needs revising. And maybe dinner & some sleep.

This has been MV, live from work, signing out.