Sunday, November 30, 2008

Who Moved my Wachamacallit?

I cleaned my room today, and this is such a rare occasion (happens only twice or thrice a year) I had to mark it on the calendar proudly, like I’d won an award or climbed a mountain. Shit, I could actually see the floor!

My room and my daily planner are contradictions. If you walk in (after pushing the door forcibly because it doesn’t open all the way because of the mattress on the floor and the bags I hung at the back of the door), you’d think it was an abandoned warehouse. Everything is in disarray- cabinets vomiting books, the closet door parted because the underwear drawers are stuffed to the brim with socks, boxers, and briefs, a locked suitcase with a conspicuous padlock lies on the floor with magazines on top, towels hung on the headboard, laptops on the pull out bed I never use, my comforter carelessly strewn on the rumpled bed, swim goggles and speedos on the chair, reference books, novels, DVDs, photocopies, projects, a manuscript, lotions, scents, chargers, and Kelly forceps (Wtf?), bags, shoes, slippers, my Clinical uniform, and a mountain of laundry litter the rest of the surfaces.

Yet in the middle of the pile are my planners (yes, three of them). They assure that everything gets done on time and future plans are set. One is for school and travel, another is for budget, bills and taxes, and the third is for fitness (ang arte!) which records my weight fluctuations, diet, dates when I last exercised (may kasama pang smiley face pagnag swim or gym)- and sometimes, if I get really crazy, I calculate calories I burned and calories I consume.

The standing policy in our house is: whatever you do, don’t touch my stuff! Sure, a snake or a scorpion may possibly be living in the crevices of that mountain of laundry, but once, all hell broke loose when a well meaning household help cleaned my room without my knowledge, and in the process, lost an important document. We had to sort the trash downstairs and comb the house to look for the item. She never attempted to clean my room again. Amazingly, even if everything was in disarray, I knew exactly where I put each item- and if someone moved it I’d know.

So there, I’m probably crazy and I’m a slob. Three cheers for acting normal today!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gunboat Adventures (Part 2)

For Part I click here

A couple of Lionfish swam past, towards the corals. I floated about cautiously, admiring their splendid spikes that made them look unearthly. The muscles of my legs started to cramp a little bit- but if I stopped doing flutter kicks I’d sink to the depths.

I felt the pressure on my ears- I equalized just as the Divemaster had taught me. Three people in a giant soup- that was what we must have looked like. Suddenly, the seafloor diappeared from view- what appeared to be was just darkness below. I felt a slight flip of my stomach.

30 Feet below Sea Level

My mouth and throat felt dry from the oxygen, but I dared not to swallow and let some saliva moisten it- I could accidentally let go of the oxygen regulator- and at 30 feet underwater- that can’t be a good thing.

I followed the gaze of the Divemaster and the British guy- just ahead, illuminated in a ghostly glow was an enormous gunboat. It looked as dead as it was dreary, seemingly foreboding as it threatened to swallow us.

There were less corals now, and only but a few fish swimming past. It was as if living things avoided the desolate spot.

The Divemaster turned to us and signaled “follow me”.

The was no sound except for the constant hiss of my regulator and the gurgling sound of bubbles as they rose to the surface. We swam deeper towards the boat.

50 Feet below Sea Level

It began as a whisper of fear. A slight knotting of my stomach, which suddenly spread to the rest of my body. To my horror, I recognized it as a sign of a panic attack.

I began reciting prayers in my head to try and calm myself down, while trying desperately to swim towards the Divemaster so I can signal that I needed to surface.

“Oh God, oh God.”

My legs felt like lead, and one of my fins were loose. I finally was able to grasp the Divemaster’s ankle. In the dim light, he turns to me questioningly.

Shit! I racked my brains- what was the signal for distress? I couldn’t think anymore, all I wanted to do was get out of that place. I was hyperventilating now, and I could see the oxygen bubbles swirling about.

He signaled CALM DOWN.

I continued to struggle through his grasp, wildly signaling and pointing up. Take me to the surface!

“Oh God, he doesn’t understand. Take me up!” I screamed in my mind.

I remembered what he said during the lesson: do not inflate your vest so as not to rise to the surface rapidly. Fuck it.

I began to kick. Kick and swim towards the surface. Finally, he understood. He signals to the British diver, grabs my vest, and slowly pulls me towards the surface.

At the Surface

I had never been so happy to see the sun, and the wind whipping my face. I let the warmth flood through my body. I bobbed up and down on the surface of the water, and the Divemaster and the British diver went back underwater.

I swam to where our boat was.

At lunch time, while we had our portions of food, the British guy’s wife told me, “You know, one of the best ways to overcome your fears is to get right back on.”

“Oo, nga Sir. Meron pa kayong isang dive. Turned out I only consumed barely half of my previous oxygen tank, and had another for the second dive, which was already paid for.

They all turn to look at me for my reply. It was, by far, one of the craziest things I’ve ever done- I smiled and said, “Sure, where’s the next wreck site?”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thadie Shrugged

The Editor-in-Chief reminds me of some regional competition looming ahead. The writing is mostly “formal”- editorials, opinion, mostly that kind of thing. I guess the problem is that the last time I read a newspaper was—well, I don’t even remember. I only use newspapers as emergency umbrellas or something I’d use to scoop dog poo with. I don’t watch television either. Suffice to say, I’m clueless with regards to what bill is being passed in the senate, or what Obama’s plans are on US foreign policy- or for that matter how much Palin had spent on clothes.

I care more about human interest stories- that’s what I usually write about. And by “human interest” I actually mean the three “K’s”: kalandian, kalokohan, and kabayotan (from the Visayan word “bayot”= gay). So I contemplated for a while on whether I’ll turn “serious” about writing.

One afternoon, during an Operating Room Techniques lecture, someone interrupted my “reading”.

“My boardmate, wants to meet with you!” She whispered.

“Guy or girl?”


I was beginning to lose interest.

“She was reading your book that she borrowed from a friend of hers. I told her you’re my classmate.”


That was not the first time it happened. I get e-mails and comments out of the blue- usually from students, saying that they’ve read my book, they liked it, blah blah blah. At the mention of my book, I usually get mixed emotions- 60% happy, 40% embarrassed. Or maybe it’s the other way around when it’s a Lit professor or God forbid a real writer who reads my work.

While scholars won’t go around knocking down doors to forage for the last few copies of City Girl, the book did surprisingly well and got a good reception from the “young ones” (a term I call anyone under 25). The last copies, I found out later, were being rented out by a local bookclub (I gave them samples when the book first came out) - and was always off the shelves, circulating among students of local schools.

I could guess why: my friend told me the girl was in stitches, reading about how I used to slather Extraderm on my ass, or asking the lady at registration about my “one times one ID picture” (how I read “1x1 ID picture” when I was in high school), or my antics with guys. I was the gold standard of bloopers, especially during my heyday- and I’m actually glad she did enjoy those anecdotes (at the expense of my ass-skin though).

All the same, I tried reading Albert Camus and Ayn Rand (and basically other writers whose books are usually yellowed with age, tucked at the far end of the book case) – as recommended by a gentleman who said that a promising writer should read works of existentialist writers, objectivism, blah blah blah. I almost fell asleep after reading the fifth page.

Really, I tried. If there’s anything I learned from that experience, those are:
1. People tend to have preferences to a specific style of writing, and forcing them to explore other styles won’t always work.
2. As accused, “generation me” might be as lazy as perceived, when it comes to reading existentialist literature, at least (in my case).
3. If you have insomnia, try reading those books. You’d be out cold by the tenth page tops. (Ok I’m kidding)

And most importantly- writing is also about finding a target audience. It is a business, after all, and those sheets of paper aren’t free- so you need people who like your writing to buy it. I’m worried I can’t move beyond the “easy read” type of writing style (or for now at least), but I think I just found my niche.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Heart N

Dear Hunny,
It's November and the rain reminds me of you. Of the countless times I see you emerge from the arrival gates at the DZR airport, while I hold an umbrella over my head in the pouring rain at 5am. Of our quiet breakfast at the Mc Donalds place near the Tacloban pier, with your steaming hot coffee radiating warmth.Miss ya, and see you tomorrow.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Trouble with Margaux

I had forgotten what day that was, what my troubles were during that time, and how far I’ve fallen. But the feeling returns to me as swift as rushing trains; that melancholy, the seemingly bottomless pit of despair.

I sat on the cold tile of our small bathroom, with bottles of pills in my pocket. Today, I thought, I’ll end all my troubles. The incandescent bulb cast long shadows, making fixtures look like grotesque puppets laughing at me.

Weeks ago, I was as vivacious as any fifteen year old- an active member of the student council, a consistent honor student, a girl with a loving family and good friends. The trouble started when I got involved in the family problems of my ex-boyfriend. Towards the end of the school year, I had a lot of requirements that I needed to accomplish, otherwise I will not be given clearance and consequently won’t be permitted to enroll.

My parents and siblings prodded me constantly. Overwhelmed with hopelessness, I sank into depression. One day, I found myself alone in our house, I thought: this is it. I calmly collected all pills and medications I could find around the house, took a last look around and went into the bathroom and locked myself in.

It really is true what they say- your life flashes before you when you are about to die. Memories flooded my mind- happier times, and happy places and then I knew it would be extremely difficult for me to let go. I suddenly found myself crying uncontrollably. Something compelled me to walk out of the bathroom, whose walls had begun to feel like they were closing in on me.

Sunlight hit my face, and I walked slowly towards the bookcase where a framed photo of my family was displayed on top. Randomly, I picked up a book and noticed a yellow sticker on the spine. I recognized it immediately.

My heart was filled with warmth again, and I was reminded why I’ll never, ever be alone. The passage on my sister’s book was one of the greatest lessons I ever learned, it read: “Jesus is Saving You.”

Note: Based on a friend's story when she once attempted to take her life.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Peep Show

I have been maintaining my blog for eighteen months now, to serve its purpose as a literary playground, a sounding board, a forum, and even once as a tool to come out of the closet.

Many things have been said about blogging: some writers would consider it as an incubator for ideas, which later becomes the seed from which their literary works grow, others think it is a great way to communicate to a multitude of people without the trouble of having to individually contact each person; most bloggers like myself use it simply as a form of self-expression, and finally for some, as Pinoy Penman Butch Dalisay would put it, it is a venue for shameless self promotion and cheeky exhibitionism.

Regardless of the motives, a person’s blog becomes an extension of himself- an online avatar if you will, which all denizens of cyber space would be free to judge and criticize after scrutinizing the blog entries. Therein lies the big difference between keeping a pen-and-paper diary and a personal blog. Perversely, I have this penchant for blurting out the most intimate details of my private life in my blog- as a way to purge strong emotions or simply rant about my problems and injustices, hoping to find solace in online friends who would tell me they’ve had the same predicaments and that “everything would turn out alright.”

Whenever a blogger posts an entry online (even anonymously), one wouldn’t expect secrecy- because someone is bound to stumble upon it and unravel the truth. We all know that risk, and take it nevertheless. In my case I simply let it all hang out, though I get a nagging feeling I might have revealed too much. The emotional catharsis that comes with the revelation, however, is usually well worth it.

I’ve always been worried how people would think of me, considering the fact that I live in a very conservative society and that I have this nonchalant attitude toward things considered taboo (like sex, for instance). I write about my relationships, in a manner that is as frank as a friend who would lean close to your ear to whisper juicy details, though I try very carefully to use the right words, so as not to lean toward vulgarity.

I remember an incident that happened sometime ago, right after I posted a vignette about a certain affair:

I was walking along, minding my own business when a girl suddenly came up to me and said: “I read your blog!” And gave me a knowing look. I blushed.

Sometimes, the opposite happens. A schoolmate confessed he could relate to what I wrote, and went on to say that reading my entries had become a habit for him and that he would download and save them so he could read at his leisure.

I think that all writers, whether from the past, the present, or the future, whether they are “serious writers” or not, simply want the same thing: for others to bear witness. Isn’t that what were all trying to do? To prove we exist, that we live in these times, and that we want our stories told.

I am not trying to justify that blogging is the new literary frontier- this is still subject for debate. In the meantime I’ll keep blogging, not for popularity or any other reasons, but because it’s fun.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Young and Stupid

November 1994

I had known Nathan since I was eight. We went to the same Catholic Elementary School. He was a cute chubby kid who happened to have the same interests as I did- we both collected comic books and trading cards, we were both in the children’s choir, and we were both into drawing.
He was my best friend, up until the first year of High School, right before he left for the states. I remember a particular time, it was during the second grading period, when he started hanging out with other kids.

I had no idea, whether it was because I missed him or that I was jealous that he was keeping others company instead of me, but I made a dramatic outburst in Homeroom. We were gathered in a circle (consisting of students in our row, he was at the far end of the room with another group); I started telling my mates that I noticed Nathan and I hardly spent time together anymore, unlike before when we were inseparable. Midway through my story I had begun sobbing, Maricel Soriano style. Our teacher made her way to our group, and patted my back gently to comfort me.

Towards the end of our first year in Divine Word University HS, he told me that his family will be moving to the US. As a goodbye token, he gave me this sort of shiny master key to remember him by.

On the way home that day, I took it out of my pocket and held it to the light. Then I swung my arm as hard as I could and threw the key in the air. It glinted for a moment before it disappeared behind the cogon grasses beside the road.

And then I never spoke about him again in front of my other friends.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gunboat Adventures (Part 1)

Coron, Palawan

The metallic hiss of my breathing was coming in gasps. The corals were gone now, and I was slowly being swallowed by the murky darkness around the ominous sunken gunboat.

I couldn’t speak- or scream for that matter to get anyone’s attention. There were only three of us diving, and both men were ahead of me. My bounding pulse sounded like drumbeats signaling impending doom as I struggled to catch up. I saw the bright yellow fins of the Dive Master a few meters ahead of me, and looking up I saw but slivers of light coming from the surface- but growing faint as we went deeper.

The muscles of my legs were beginning to ache. I tried wildly to signal to my Dive Master that I was having trouble, but he was almost beyond my reach and I couldn’t just inflate my vest to float to the surface suddenly- my ears had to adjust constantly to the pressure underwater and if I surface very quickly it might be harmful for me.

“Fuck! I’m going to die here…”

5 Feet

“Boss, I-try nyo mag scuba diving.” The man from the resort said.

“He doesn’t swim,” I told the guy of my beau. “I can, but I’ve never dived before, and don’t you need certain hours of training in a pool before they allow you in the open sea?”

“Ang Discover Diving, sa mababaw muna mag-start tapos dun kayo tuturuan ng basics. I-try nyo po, Php3,200 lang para sa dalawang dives. May kasama ng lunch yun.”

And that’s how it started. Early the next day, we found ourselves in a small outrigger boat speeding into the sea for an hour to reach the dive site: a Japanese Gunboat which sunk more than 60 years ago during the Japanese-American war.

The boat anchored near the shore. The Dive Master fitted the equipment and threw them overboard. I watch the tanks strapped to the backpacks floating despite its heaviness. “Take pictures of me.” I said to my beau as I got into the water. I was wearing a wet suit and I thought I was so cool.

The Dive Master taught us the basics in the shallow water: how to breathe using the regulator, retrieving your regulator, what to do when your mask gets foggy, and the most important thing: hand signals. You certainly can’t speak underwater, so you rely on hand signals to tell the Dive Master certain things- if your oxygen is low, if you’re ok, or if you’re in trouble.

We were ready.

15 Feet

We descended slowly. The British guy was ahead, followed by the Dive Master, and I lagged behind. The corals were stunning- an explosion of colors and exotic creatures (which you never really appreciate that much when you just snorkel).

The Dive Master turned to me questioningly, and I gave him the signal for “Ok”.

We went deeper… (to be continued)


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