Begin with an end.
A cat, between 3 and 4 years old, limping home, stopping to rest every few feet, what could pass for humanity surrounding it unaware of the ardor and desperation that accompanied each step as the cat pawed its way towards the gate. Home was on a block in the beginning stages of gentrification, construction sites replacing the vacant lots that surrounded the house. The men stepped aside to clear the way in what was a rare act of compassion. Unable to bend or contort its body into the necessary proportions to get through the gate’s slats, the cat sat outside. The cat waited.
A young man who had stepped outside for a cigarette, sensed the presence of the family pet and opened to gate to find it bloodied and bruised in the driveway. Unable to cry out, he picked it up, and after carefully arranging its mangled limbs around its broken body in a way that he felt would minimize its pain, went inside to get a towel.
The child had been standing by the back door this whole time, watching him, wondering why he moved so quietly. And what had he done to their cat? The man would emerge carrying a towel, and a dish of cream, followed by a young woman. There was whispering, and the woman would turn away and cover her face, muffling her sobs. This was when she would see the child, and wide-eyed, would turn back to the young man, and after more whispers, she would walk back to the house, towards the doorway where the child had been standing, taking the child by the hand, lead the way back inside, to bed, to sleep.
The cat, drawing ragged breath after ragged breath through lungs burdened by broken ribs, could barely lift its head to take in a few dollops of the cream. Still the man remained attentive, and upon seeing the cat’s eyes dilate in the pleasures derived from the taste of the cream, drew his gun. With the towel, the gruesome spectacle was hidden from view, the firing of the two mercy shots was muffled. The child and its mother remained upstairs, reading in bed while the man took the bloodied towel, and wrapped it tighter around the still warm body of his pet.
Their bodies twin shadows, holes in the light, the child watched the parents whispering in the doorway. Even in grasping for silence, the mother’s voice was shrill, her anxiety audible, she dug her nails into his father’s shoulders, weeping.
A group of young men had chanced upon the cat as it made its nightly rounds; scavenging, prowling, the cat had accidentally knocked over a few bottles, and the men, inebriated, on instinct, had picked it up by the tail and slammed it on the table. As the cat made its attempt to flee, one of the men had hit its still supine legs with a bottle, a hit strong enough to shatter the glass. The cat rolled off the table, and one of the men would pick it up and take it outside and leave it on the sidewalk for the city to have its way with it.
This time last year –
Go through each day thinking, “I would be so pissed off if I died tomorrow.”
All this means is that today is not enough, because I’m so used to all the plans I’ve neatly charted for the months and years to come. And seriously, god, you can’t kill me in my sleep, because there are about 45 students depending on me for their grades, which I have to submit by next week. If ever I have to go, I’ll have to bargain for an extension, on account of “I’d be so pissed off at having to explain to 45 students that I’m a ghost, and I choked to death on my own vomit, one unfortunate night.”
B pulled up a chair, sat at his desk, emptied his pockets—keys, ID, wallet, cellphone—and leaned into the backrest with a sigh that acknowledged to the needless pressures of yet another long day. In the next cubicle, Tanya gazed at him curiously, as if the spectacle unfolding before her was not one that took place on a daily basis: B, dragging his feet across the carpeted hallway, setting his bag down, slumping into his chair and emptying his pockets. He always looked encumbered despite bringing far less than he could carry. Just a bag and a pocket full of trinkets was enough to force sweat to form on his brow. B carried a different kind of weight, which brought Tanya to the conclusion that he was spoiled and self-entitled, unaccustomed to the more complex problems wrought by everyday life. B wasn’t bothered by mouths to feed or plans of any substance—at least none that Tanya was aware of, in spite of their proximity.
Today, Tanya regarded B with a wide-eyed curiosity. “Your shirt,” she said, pointing to a large grey stain spreading across the cotton expanse covering B’s hollow chest. His appearance was an unnecessary burden to Tanya, but she let it bother her all the same. “There are absolutely no dateable men at my office,” was a complaint heard by every one of Tanya’s girlfriends and at some point, the head of Human resources. “More eligible bachelors plz” she scrawled anonymously on the Comments and Suggestions board posted outside the HR office. B’s hollow chest not only rendered him as physically unfit, but served as a metaphor for his lack of ambition and lust for life. At least that’s how Tanya read it.
“What is that?” she asked again, gesturing with her portable mug towards the stain, which now appeared to be rapidly spreading across the panels of his pale blue button-down. B, stonefaced and dismissive, dabbed at the grey blot with the tip of his necktie; seeing no improvement, looked back at Tanya and shrugged.
We live on a faultline, and just getting through each day feels like a miracle in itself. We celebrate it as such. We light candles; we touch our fingers to our lips then raise them in the direction of a statue of our patriarch, the great Henry. We are happy one moment to be living our lives in the most mundane of routines, then overcome with a deep and reflective nostalgia at how lucky we are to be alive, so close to the end of the world. Each day bearing the weight of being the last one; last hint of dawn on the horizon, last meals, last words to the people we were living with.
It wasn’t so much that I was compelled by an endless sense of urgency to spend each day reaching out to the people around me, but the fact that there had to be reaching. I was always reaching for people who should have been no farther from me than arm’s length, and this bothered me.
My daughter and I are out for a walk. We head East this time, away from the bridge that runs over the open sewers that have long since stagnated, leaving the stench of death clinging to your nostrils. Not that it matters. This town was above specifying concrete directions: with every step and turn dependent on the location of the nearest convenience store or gas station.
I hate this town. I hate my job. I hate the street where I live and the isolation and the nagging sense of obligation to my family and friends. I hate this life but I’m too afraid to leave it. And while I’m tired of complaining, I’m afraid to stop for fear of what little will be left of me. As much as I hate this life, I have always felt that incessantly complaining about it validated my existence and made me a more interesting person. So there.
I’m not going to take the pills. I watched my mother let go of her figure, lose her sense of style, sense of good hygiene; I watched her as the pills slowly turned into a zombie, and I vowed that I would relish the highs and the lows. Now, I’m afraid highs and lows are all I have to make people want to get to know me better, just so I can keep them on their toes as to where I’ll take them next. That’s all.
While she wouldn’t take it for granted that it required courage to reach across the table, take her hand, and look into her eyes while professing a love that knew no contracts and could exist with its own velocity; she also knew that it took drudgery and an adherence to routine that was beneath him. She knew he wouldn’t be there when it mattered most.
People always mull over tragedy, over grand sweeping gestures; we depart to the sounds of professional mourning, high-pitched wails and women tearing their hair out; the old are quietly awaited in heaven. That’s what you’re led to think, so they can say “he lived a good full life,” as if good and full were virtues, which they are. Don’t get me wrong, they are.
I woke up screaming again this morning, afraid of the pain, afraid of the mundanity that would accompany my exit. We have approached old age with all the normalcy and routine with which we approach birth, and yet we celebrate it with fireworks. With sputing, as my children liked to say. I don’t know what they call it now. Now, it feels like I’ve been keeping them waiting too long; it feels like being the last guest at a party, and the tired host is just politely waiting for me to take a hint and gather my belongings so that she can show me out. I had a lovely time, no really, I did.
And now I wake up screaming not out of pain but out of fear, fear that this is really all there is.
My grandson walks in carrying a slice of cake and a container of pudding. Again. I do not want any fucking cake or pudding. I look at him trying to tell him, trying to communicate in a glance that what I want is out of this poor excuse for a life. That I am tired and bored, and that I am no longer convinced that the two go hand in hand. By now I have confirmed the mutual exclusivity of being tired and being bored and that once the two coexist, you are doomed. And that’s what I am, doomed to an excuse to exist just so I can sit tacitly in the corner while another generation that does not care to know me celebrates its space in the world. I am convinced. There is no space in the world for me. And I look at him, this grandson, and with that look I try to tell him to get that goddamn pudding out of my face, I do not want to gum down any more fucking old man food.
You’ll regret it when you’re dying, is what I’ve been told. You’ll regret it when you’re on the edge of everything the world has to offer. Just as you’re about to bid it farewell, you will look back not with acceptance but with a heart heavy with regret. “My life is a mess,” she shut her eyes, tightly, squeezed his hand, and was gone. That was years before now. And now is still years away from his turn.
This is a story.
The Blockbuster Called You
I was just about to tweet about the unexpected workout I got from gutting a pumpkin, when it hit me. That I felt everything that took place in my life was a major event was simultaneously amazing and appalling. Is this what web 2.0 has done to our lives that once felt so insignificant, whether twitter has that capacity to magnify our complacence, or exaggerate our agency, there is a lot to be said for a culture which allows us to carve out a space where we can announce the smallest of victories.
“Just carved a pumpkin. That was an unexpected workout, right there!”
One day I will fantasize about driving. Today I am thinking about mass transit systems that work and the stories of the people we sit next to or across from. I think about you and me on the F train from Essex going into Brooklyn, 14 stops down, Church Avenue. I think about writing a love story in counterpoint, because counterpoint is all you can make of these seemingly random, collected moments.
One thing they have in common: They like to begin sentences with “but my father…”
It’s difficult talking to people who haven’t shifted from a language of blame to a language of accountability. Both my parents are given to blaming everything around them, from the map in their hands (“This map is wrong” My Dad, 2011) to their parents. “I’m like this because my father never allowed me to do anything.” My mom says that a lot. My mom is a fucking cunt. “You don’t even want to go with me to the gym, how am I supposed to lose any weight?” See what I mean? What a fucking cunt.
And if that’s the kind of mind you have to deal with, one which hasn’t made the transition from blame to accountability, one which is incapable of recongnizing that their lives are the sum total of all their choices, that mind becomes an impenetrable barrier to any kind of self-actualization. My mom will never be a complete person because she acknowledges her codependence without recognizing the indignity that comes with it. She does not see the injury she inflicts by making herself an insufferable human being.
Human hype machines
How else do we get over our irrelevance?
I’m not a fucking scenester, that’s why I’m not in white
I haven’t read enough about this budget cut to actually invest any of myself in it, just yet.
What is a non-performing university?
My mom likes arguments about sophistication, but coming from an uncritical standpoint, arguments about sophistication are often broken into class warfare, where rich people are inherently evil, and poor people are genteel and innocent.
This is how we’re supposed to be turned off of ambition, of striving for something greater than the limits drawn by our roots
I’m watching this movie right now, it’s set in Ho Chi Minh (or is it Hanoi?) and it’s about rice cake and how rice cake can come to symbolize simple village life and resigning oneself to an existence of tilling fields. When the protagonist in this film moves to the city, goes to a club, meets some hot girl with who he SEXXES! and does other debaucherous things only to have her bitchy gold-diggery side come out. One day, as they go out on the town, he sees someone selling rice cake on the sidewalk.
“Why would a rich man like you like rice cake?” she asks.
“Why would I like such a boorish thing?” he asks right back.
I spent most of my childhood scared to death of grandfathers and I could chalk this up mostly to a young mind that was prone to stereotyping. When I was about 4 or 5, I had a box of Hi-C and a Little Mermaid mug. One morning I asked our maid to please get me my Hi-C in my Little Mermaid mug because I wanted to have it with my breakfast. My obsession with fastidious instructions goes way back, and now it’s paralyzed me to the point where I refuse to delegate even the simplest tasks.
That day, our maid came downstairs with a mug full of not Hi-C, but of Tang. It turns out my Lolo, as in my mother’s father, had seen her emptying the Hi-C into the mug, and quickly staked his claim over a drink that should have been mine. I’m not sure what happened next, but I haven’t forgotten that incident, so I guess I never forgave him for it. I mean, Hi-C is about 60% sugar. It’s crazy delicious! There is no substitute.
In my young mind, all grandfathers were the same. Stubborn, domineering, bordering on batshit crazy. I was 4 or 5, I didn’t know what senile meant.
Enter Tata. I guess I had trouble putting two and two together when it came to where I stood relative to Tata. He was a loud silver-haired gentleman, very distinguished, very refined, and he wore suits. He was a far cry from my Lolo who was confined to a desk in his bedroom slippers and pajamas. My Lolo used to call me over, and from a very close and very uncomfortable distance, have me name all the people in the pictures framed under the glass top of his desk. I could only put up with it for so long and lost it after about a year.
My Tata on the other hand was perfectly fine with YELLING at me from the opposite end of the room. Not talking, YELLING. While Lolo communicated with me via eye-contact and pointing, my Tata had zero sense of modulation. I was 4…or 5. I had no idea what deaf meant.
This one time, around the same year, we were all out having dinner. I saw a lot of both sides of the family because my parents hadn’t separated yet. Tata was on the other side of the table, I was next to my mom and my dad was somewhere or other surrounded by his miniature fort of beer bottles. At the next table was another distinguished gentleman having a lively and animated discussion with his own family, and I remember Tata craning his neck a little to have a look, then turning back to us and announcing “ANG LAKAS NG BOSES NG LALAKING YAN,” in what should have been his indoor voice. Of course, being Tata, indoor voice meant belting it out like a cheerleader.
At the same dinner, my parents were discussing—in their own indoor voices—the virtues of my older siblings, both of whom had already started school. They were both ruminating out loud that Nena was like this and Mon was like that, whereas I was busy ruminating on the intricacies of the shrimp puff on my plate. And in the midst of all that, Tata looks at me and announces, “I LIKE ALICE.” That was awesome, and that has always stayed with me, even two decades later, through condemnations and pronouncements that Tata was like this, Tata was like that; through petty arguments that justified my parents’ separation and the reasons for the distance between my self and my father’s side of the family.
My father—like his father—is a lawyer, and one of his techniques is to make your head spin before you finally understand him. Like my father, I have a tendency to ramble. One of my friends described me as someone who tends to say 10,000 things at a time. But unlike me, my father always managed to pick up the loose ends and tie the whole thing into one lucid argument. Isn’t that what lawyers do? The night we got the news from Prague, he was rambling about EU Standards, first world medical care, and Czech socialism. “Who would have thought…who would have thought—who would have thought?” And what were the odds? At that point, it was useless to question the odds or go back to the plan. What’s a plan in the face of a grand gesture when grand gestures are beyond all logic. Grand gestures run on faith. Try finding reason in that.
I cannot fathom the pain and loneliness of passing away in a strange land, but the love that went into the plane ticket and the trip across the globe just to make sure my Tita Myeny would not have to fly home alone are beyond what I can imagine as well. When we think of travel, we think of romance and exotic destinations, not of bloating, waiting lounges, and being frisked at every gate. Isn’t it really just about finding someone or something that’s worth the trip?
For someone who almost never goes to church, I’ve learned a great deal about faith from the things my fathers told me. Without faith, what’s the point in even making a decision, let alone acting upon it? Everything we do is such a shot in the dark, who knows where tomorrow will take us. The most we can do is just believe that things are going to work out for us. I mean, look at where it got my grandfather? And I’m not talking about recent events, I’m talking about a life so full of possibilities and opportunities that he just took the reins on. It’s so hard to find something beautiful in this world, something that fits you and works out, that if you find something—take that and don’t let it go.
My grandfather was supposed to turn 89. An hour after he passed away, my sister, my father, and I sat in a large room that was all marble, antique vases, chandeliers, and opulence; all of which testified to privilege. We Sarmientos were a privileged lot, and it’s useless to deny that. When I was little, my mom had the mind to keep us at arm’s length from it—whether it was the right or wrong is irrelevant now. Who’s to judge? I quietly resigned myself to this new chapter that would take up the majority of the narrative that made up my small life. The argument I was presented with was that “Children need a mother,” I guess I took it for granted that I needed a father as well.
Guess What Bitches, I Wrote a Fuckin’ Book!
Incidentally, that is also the title of MY fuckin’ book. Note the absence of a “g” in my use of “fucking” as a modifier. The apostrophe tells you that I am hip, I am of this generation, I am at home in my apparent informality and this book belongs on the literary canon of Filipiniana alongside Bob Ong and Gary Lising, but it can feel just as at home next to Shit My Dad Says. Seeing my book and his book side-by-side makes me feel a warm sense of kinship—we have both achieved. We have jumped through burning hoops, aka proofreaders, publishers, market researchers—and we have been found worthy.
I love that phrase:
“After the war…”
I was around 10 or 11 when I first visited CD Warehouse, then the lone veritable treasure trove among the handful of local record stores. If this statement is debatable, keep in mind that I was 10 (or 11). Later there would be Jay’s Disc House in University Mall, Tower Records would open, then I would discover things like realplayer and napster, and that would completely change the game. Heck, even ICQ had a stake in my record collection, which was slowly transitioning from jewel cases to files sitting in my hard drive. This is where I would first come across Anal Cunt, Spazz, and the only one that actually stuck, Operation Ivy.
But back to CD Warehouse: what they didn’t have on stock, you could readily order.
Music plays a part in what we do, songs provide a backdrop. The first CD I bought was Eels, Beautiful Freak, because I was so enthralled with the idea of actually being able to hold the record on which “Novocaine for the Soul” was pressed. Again, I was 10 (or 11), I don’t think I even knew what novocaine was. But I was ready to latch on to this other myth about anyone entering their teens (and god knows I was far too eager to enter mine, to grow up already): that there were things out there that understood me better than anything within the vicinity. And through acquisition, I would somehow be able to draw closer to those things that would help me sort it out.
So yes, that was my first record, and of course I ended up depressed as all fuckery after buying it; convinced I had something to do with the tracks.
Songs are not necessarily designed for repeated consumption, but it definitely means something when we consume them on repeat, when they become our soundtracks and when certain lines become mantras that help us get through the day a little more easily.
I cannot listen to Heartsongs for Humans without making a note of how much these songs changed since I first heard them. I cannot see this band without making a note of how different I was when I first saw them live. This is where the difference between being a friend and being a fan comes in. Should friends even be reviewing each other’s work? and how does this fit into a scene so small that you can’t turn around without sticking your dick in someone’s ear?
Arigato, Hato! is one of those bands. I remember sitting in Cat’s apartment while she first played the opening notes to “He was a dog”, then getting a call from Mikey later that week about a weird demo Cat had emailed with wolf whistles and owl hoots. That was what “He was a dog” morphed into within a week. Imagine how much that song changed over the course of a couple of years. A couple of years may not seem like much: it’s the halfway point of a college degree, a respectable period for a serious relationship. But what I cannot stress enough is how two years in your twenties zips by at lightning speed, a period that makes loving and losing seem too easy. Don’t tell me to “wait ’til I get to my 30s,” I’m not there yet, and it will be a while before I get there.
But when I first heard Cat sing, there was that unmistakable pinch of nervousness, of a voice just beginning to escape the restrictions of a box rarely opened. She had Marts and Owel on guitar, Joey on the Nintendo DS. This was way back.
I am not talking about the album, because it would be impossible to talk about the album outside of the context of my life within it and without it. There is an unwritten rule about the place of autobiography in music criticism. –Much has been said about the place of autobiography in music criticism, but knowing a band is completely different from knowing a group of individuals.
Oddly enough, the first one I met in this group was Joe.
The video for Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” was an eye-opener. The concept was simple: One mug after another of America’s lost children.
This was Pop. This was before the days of Pitchfork and Stereogum. We didn’t have to actively seek this music out, it was on the airwaves and in our record bars, but most of all it was on our screens reminding us that “There are over one million youth lost on the streets of America.” This was how America rolled: the best way to draw attention to serious issues was to turn them into Pop cultural artifacts. Who knows if runaways are still a problem today? Who cares? In my mind, there’s 1992, a list of names, and Dave Pirner singing to me about the tough times we live in.
Now if you want to talk about reminders of the tough times we live in, we can turn to that Ke$ha woman who insists on spelling her name with a dollar sign.
Remember when MTV actually played good music?
It’s not even a shortage of good music, but somehow we insist on feeding our eyeballs and our ears with things like Justin Bieber in 3-D.
“Lo siento,” it means “I’m sorry,” in Spanish. Directly translated, the words mean “I feel it,” which is all you really want to hear in an apology.
The lights come on, the world is doused and exposed. A television set, a laptop, a heavy duty tool box filled with makeup, a mattress, and one window looking in on the fact that they had forgotten yet again to buy curtains. Weekly shopping sprees only added to the mounds of flotsam accumulating in a corner of the apartment. “Our own place!” she had exclaimed, opening her arms to the possibility of their love and the life together that was represented by crossing the threshold into married life, into apartment life, their own place, a place of their own.
Lo siento, losiento, loss-ie-ento. She tried the words on, there was more to it than their foreignness that made them feel odd in her mouth.
Never having spouted dishonesty or experienced heartbreak, one day she just woke up, looked at that growing pile of stuff and laughed. While she couldn’t explain it then, she was feeling something in her veins, something bloodier than blood, full-bodied and clean. The weight of her love and all the worry and heartbreak she had foreseen were now falling, were part of gravity doing its thing while the now unnameable thing she felt rising within her was too small, too site-specific to make space for her old life. This one, with the flotsam, the makeup kit, the tiny apartment; our space, she had called it.
She is neither stalwart nor realistic and has trouble with basic concepts, such as the one that says events move in one direction only and do not jump up, turn around, and take themselves back.
She wishes that there were more interesting things that were useful and true, but it seems now that it’s only the boring things that are useful and true.
The authority he attempts to convey, he cannot remotely inhabit. He is not even in the same building with it.
After this, there is no more life. There is something else, something stumbling and unlivable, something mechanical, something for robots, but not life
A tune to keep one humming through the war. “You’ll get through it,” the Surgeon says.
“How?” asks the Mother. “How does one get through it?”
“You just put your head down and go,”
Sitting there, bowed and bobbing, the Mother feels the entirety of her love as worry and heartbreak.
Once you debit five figures, you can’t go back.
My debit happened by accident, literally. There was a car accident with me at the wheel. I remember blinking and opening my eyes to over thirty thousand pesos worth of damage. While my fifteen-year-old Corolla took the bigger dent, the heftier price tag weighed in on the brand new Ford Everest I had crashed into. We had a cracked radiator, pulverized grates, and the hood was folded, creased down the middle.
Losing it began with a hug from a stranger, and a delayed realization that my wallet was gone. The hug happened on one of the greatest nights of my life: I had come from a small gig featuring one of my favorite bands at the time, and on my way home I had run into the members of Architecture in Helsinki. Before this, a boy named Jaden had approached me at a bus stop and told me a long meandering story about his fascination with feet and a film project he had in the works.
And so we watched movies, ate dinner, and kept meeting up as we worked our way towards figuring out the default settings of each others’ characters. We studied each other as if there were reports required at the end of each date and we kept trying to understand when and why and how; when was a good time to ask; why
Reading in bed is not so much reading in bed as it is listening to the pages turn in the book you aren’t reading, the one in his hands. Somehow this brings you great joy, watching his hands, as the sound made by the pages against each other is the sound of your guard being whittled away, slowly. The same way that …Seeing his open palm on the armrest and hoping that nothing bad ever happen ever happen to him. That’s just how it works, and you wait for these little moments where above the giddy anticipation of a new relationship, you await the default settings of each other’s character, the blanks being filled in as you settle into each other’s routines. You think, this is good.
I think about you and the layers that need to be peeled away before flesh meets bare flesh: blanket, t-shirt, glasses, socks, whatever bullshit guard you’re leaving up, “Slow down,” “I just came out of a long-term relationship”. All of it could come off at some point, and I wonder if it’s worth the effort. For now, we’re stuck here, listening to the rustle of paper on paper, watching each other’s hands.
I met a poet who had the balls to call himself that without flinching. Like, “What do you do?” “I’m a poet.”Owning the title meant literal starvation, eviction notices, and shitty jobs encoding data, but it was a title I would later find was well-deserved. He opened his bag and took out an orange notebook, one of those college-ruled generic composition types you bought in packs of three. He had expensive notebooks, moleskins, leather bound ledgers given to him by well-meaning friends, but there was something about them—intimidation, paralyzing attacks of obsessive compulsiveness—that kept their pages blank while the orange notebooks filled up with what he called his best work.
I’m wary of people I meet at bars, because no matter how well you hit it off and despite the possibility of a fairy tale ending, at the end of the day you will have to live with the admission of having met at a bar. Your story will always begin with, “Oh, he picked me up.”
“I said she had nice ears.”
“He smelled nice.”
“Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there was a princess. On this night, the princess was having trouble sleeping because of a knocking sound coming from her door. She couldn’t place what it was because these were knocks coming from knuckles that didn’t sound human. Yet, as the night wore on, and the knocking grew more insistent, the princess finally pulled her tired body out of bed and to the door.
Standing outside was a little grey man. He had large glazed over eyes, similar to those of a fish or a frog. He was dressed in a bewildering array of rope and loincloth and perched atop his head was a khaki baseball cap. He stared at Edwina, making her nervous, and pointed straight at her.
‘You,’ said the little grey man. ‘You need to come with me to my kingdom.’
She stood and stared back at the little grey man, puzzled at how he found her and even more puzzled by his request. ‘But I’m only a child!’ said the princess. But the little grey man insisted, wrapping her tiny wrist in a scaly grey hand and pulling her down the hallway. He was strong, and the princess was too startled to cry for help.”
“How did the little man find her?”
“That’s what we’re about to find out.”
“Didn’t she have guards?”
“They were all asleep by then.”
“I want a glass of water.”
He got up to get her a glass of water.
“Did the little grey man have a name?”
“Yes he did. I’ll tell you when I get back.”
It was exactly ten steps between the girl’s bedroom and the kitchen. In those ten steps, the man would come up with a name and answers to the girl’s questions. On the way back he would change his answers, possibly change the little grey man’s name. Usually, by the time he would return, the girl would be fast asleep.
“Usually” was a standard that had been measured in the past two and half months since the girl’s mother had left. Two and a half months. It had already been that long. It never failed to surprise him, how time behaved for adults. You blink and the weeks fly by. After the first three days he had stopped trying to reach her. Three weeks and he gave up on waiting for her to call. Called his mother. Called her mother. Called the trucking service to have his wife’s things moved to her family’s house in Quezon City and his things to his parent’s house in Pasig, before finally moving everything he and the little girl owned into an apartment nearby.
The whole process took ten days. Ten days to move them into the apartment where there were ten steps between everything. Her toys were the last things they moved so that they would be the last things to leave her. He remembered how time would crawl when he was her age, and he knew that the same held true for her now, even with the numerous distractions he had worked hard to provide. Luckily, the long days and the boredom made her prone to forgetting. She asked less and less about where her Mommy had gone. She also didn’t seem to notice that he had been repeating the same story, over and over since they had moved in, always ending with the little grey man seizing the princess by the wrist and dragging her down the hallway. He did not know how to go on from there.
These things were always happening once upon a time, in a faraway land: a little grey man turning up in the middle of the night, a princess disappearing under the noses of an entire battalion of armed guards. In her tiny bedroom, the little girl always fell asleep at this part of the story, fully aware that these things only happened in fairy tales and exhausted from a day that had taken far too long to go by.
After getting her glass of water, he would peek in on her, relieved that another day had passed without any questions about her mother. It was enough that he couldn’t continue a fictional tale about a grey man and a princess in a labyrinthine castle, when it came to real life he was at an even bigger loss, and the only way out was to keep living through it. The days were easy, there was enough work and trivial conversation to provide him with a respite from the crushing weight of his thoughts and his own questions—about his wife, about his daughter, about how to continue the silly fairy tale he had already started in the ten step apartment.
The nights were another story. He usually started by going back to the kitchen with her glass of water. And then he would sit and wait. The phone would begin ringing by 2 am and he would pounce on it; eagerly anticipating her call, the news that she was okay, the reasons why she still hadn’t returned. He knew she was out there somewhere, otherwise her parents wouldn’t be so calm about it. Otherwise, the phone wouldn’t be ringing at all. He wanted to know where she was hiding and why she had left. Did she miss her daughter? Of course she missed her daughter. But did she miss him? But the other end was always static.
He looked up, startled. The little girl stood in the doorway, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. It was the phone. She had been sleeping soundly until it began to ring. He would have to continue the story tonight.
“I’ll get you a glass of water.”
By the next morning, the little girl would know that the grey man’s name was Woflof. He and Princess Edwina had stolen into the night on a giant frog waiting outside one of the palace’s windows. The frog took them to a magic lily pad that would ferry them across a swamp and deeper into the Creepy Forest, never to be heard from again. The little girl’s eyes had lit up with delight for a moment, her breathing stopped when he mentioned the frog outside the window. By the time they got to the forest she was already cranky and exhausted. The story would have to wait again, and he could take it from the start, iron out the kinks.
It was Saturday and he thought it would be a good idea to go to the park. When they had moved to their new apartment, he wanted her to recognize the value of living in a good neighborhood, one with playgrounds and schools nearby. Thus, the park, where he sat on a bench and watched his daughter flicking gravel at the foot of a concrete slide made to look like an alligator’s tail. A bright white arch with the name of the barangay inscribed hung over his head, its reflective surface nearly blinding him.
The park was a concrete monstrosity made of yellow and red brick, with a collection of granite fixtures meant as a vague homage to unidentifiable contemporary masters. He was beginning to think it was a bad idea to come here in the 37 degree heat, but his little girl had seemed so happy to be out of the apartment. She pulled-up grass and flung bits of gravel at a large concrete ball in the center of the sandbox.
“BEAN!” she shouted, pointing at the ball. This made him smile. Trust a child to call a thing what it isn’t, and get away with it.
After a few minutes the heat became less of a burden. It allowed his mind to go numb and his eyes to wander. He sat staring at the clouds and at the sky, sun-rich, open, and blue beyond them, and thought of nothing. He sat there for a while until his daughter, smiling with her hands tucked behind her back, came up to him.
“Daddy, I got you something.”
“What is it, sweetheart?”
“Open your hand.”
The man opened his hand and into his palm she placed a tiny handful of broken glass. He stared at the pieces, still dazed and only mildly alarmed until he saw his daughter’s hands and the tiny red scratches where the shards had left their marks.
“I got you something.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Am I supposed to close my eyes, then?”
“Yes, and open your hand.”
“Do you like it?”
“It’s a leash. We don’t have a dog.”
“We should get one!”
“I don’t want one.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. But it’s a nice leash, right?”
“It is! It is. Thank you. I’ll keep it anyway!”
“Well, we can always trade it in for something else.”
“A bone? A chew toy? A cage?”
“You could have just gotten me a book.”
She regarded the leash, turning over the sturdy length of rope in her hands. It was for a big dog, a retriever, a Rottweiler, something that would protect them and break in half the neck of anyone who threatened their safety.
“I guess we’re getting a house. There’s no way a dog this size will fit in the apartment.”
The leash was the first of many steps leading up to the the car, the house, the good neighborhood, then the daughter. The life together; the rituals; the chores and the groceries; the family functions they attended in tandem where her parents always wanted to know if he was treating her right. Then came weekends where all she did was lay on the couch, one arm flung over her eyes and their daughter asleep in the car seat which was leaning against where she lay.
“Not now,” she would mutter, swatting him aside with her other hand. She did this whether or not he was standing beside her. He could hear her doing this, feel her dismissal even from the next room and for the life of him, could not remember how it was to be loved by this woman. “Not now,” began to spill into weeknights, nights where he would make her dinner, care for their daughter, and push her hair out of her face out of a sense of duty towards kindness.
And then one day, along with a duffel bag, several changes of clothes, and her toothbrush, she was gone.
On this Saturday evening, he lay on the couch, a book open on his stomach. Dante wrote that the only way to create poetry was to fall deeply in love with a girl without ever allowing her to speak—and then to kill her. Killing her off was paramount.
In his mind, his wife had become a series of clumsy verse that always ended with static. She had become a character of his invention, their shared history replaced by a whole range of separate postulated destinies. Him on the receiving end of late night phone calls on which he placed a profound amount of emotional investment. Him, with their daughter, trying to finish a badly woven fairy tale.
“What happened to Woflof and Princess Edwina?” the little girl asked. She was getting older, her days were shorter now, and few things stood out. Her memory was getting sharper.
The People You Meet in Your Bible Study Group
• I’d rather be alone than be with a guy I need to take care of in the co-dependent sense of the word.
• I have never done this, but I feel that this is the only thing I would be happy doing
o Being in academe as a curator
I’ve spent too much time already looking at a job on the interface of the academe and the creative front which would still allow me to make clothes, and now here we are.
I write because I like to, not because it pays
Maybe I don’t want to get into publishing…yet
I think I’ll do this first…
Things I still want to do:
• Make clothes for Catfight
o How is femininity repurposed in advertising for a female target market?
By looking at ads, we explore the public sphere as the museum for feminine ideals
We look at the relationship between women and commodity culture, its effects on identity
Produces the gallery as a microcosm through a series of staged parodies of advertisements
• How is the commercial sphere a simulation of the domestic sphere, and how this eventually turned into the domestic sphere simulating the commercial sphere
o Initially it was retail establishments attempting to recreate the home
o With the definition and the spaces we call home being redefined, we can now see the home turning into a simulation of the commercial sphere
i.e. Martha Stewart, Cooking shows
o Advertorials, Text, and Grown-up sized cardboard “playhouses”
• An oven and a refrigerator made from packaging
• Slogan aprons
• A closet wallpapered in logos that opens with shopping bag handles
• A pink confetti covered wall covered with hand mirrors
o The woman in the commercial sphere
Entire industries directed at women
o The woman in the domestic sphere
Craftsmanship vs artisan work
o The unavoidable overlap between the two
• Aspects of actual ads will be produced large scale
• Recreations will be done on a smaller scale
• Implements of femininity will be placed in a model home
o Help from ID students
o Alternative Title: Now we’re talking
o Alternative Title 3: Women and Children First: Exploring War at Home
The implications of “Do what’s best for you.”
Installation: A gilded cage made entirely of soft materials
• Confetti, fabric
o Twist paper with foil and twist around an embroidery hoop
o Hang from pin lights
• Pink and gold color scheme
• Mirrors and dresser
• Objects will be displayed on dressers made entirely of soft materials
ART DIRECTION: Marla Cabanban
PHOTOGRAPHY: Joey Alvero
CURATORIAL FRAME, CONCEPT, EXECUTION, CLOTHES: Alice Sarmiento
Looks at the heteronormative, the gilded cage, the idea of protection of the sexes
Notes will all be done as ad copy
o Alternative Title 2: If you know what’s best for you
Commercial Representations of the woman in the domestic sphere
This is a fashion show that is not a fashion show
This is something I want to get out of the way before I leave CHE
• Work on essays as extension of your thesis
o Femininity and material culture
o In the loop: Real Estate and Real Women
o Feminine Philanthropy
• More and more, I find myself wanting to be a curator. I like writing and I like exhibitions.
• I like …
Over everything, I miss the part where the bed’s already warm and you just have to hop in. I miss the part where I’m sharing a space with someone and I don’t even mind. I’m very protective of my space, I don’t like other people puttering around and messing with my things. When I leave the house, I lock my bedroom door and come home to an unmade bed, but I really don’t care as long as I know that the rumpled sheets were my own doing.
I had come to Hong Kong without much of a plan. I knew there was a Picasso exhibit and that we had tickets to a concert. I was going with someone I could barely call a friend and hadn’t spoken to in weeks. I could not entirely distinguish whether we were speaking to each other or speaking at each other. Things were only bound to get uglier and this was going to be the most expensive bad date I would ever have to go on, so I figured at the last minute that I should find some way to enjoy it, with or without him—but preferably without him. The day after the concert, I was sitting in the courtyard waiting for him, and when I saw his face I knew that waiting for him was the worst in a series of bad decisions.
Echoing Frank Chimero, “Sometimes you paint yourself into a corner. Sometimes you allow life to do it for you.” It made my head hurt. Beside me was a boy in a beanie, topsiders, and a button-down shirt. I asked if he spoke English, and he said yes. I asked if he wanted to grab a drink, and he said “Absolutely.” We got up and left.
Things I will never Understand:
1. Trouser socks worn with shorts
When I was little, two trips were made every morning to bring me and my sister to school. The first trip was for me: I woke up at 5:30 am, and rather than have me bumming around at home like a normal 7-year-old, I was dropped off at 7 in the morning so I could have at least an hour of uninterrupted quality playground time with myself. The driver would then go back and bring my sister to the same school at 8, so while I was always unreasonably early, she was always late. It made very little sense and it only served to tire out our already overworked driver; but it also taught me that it was okay to go ahead, even if it meant going by yourself. What wasn’t okay was getting left behind.
My mom woke me up at 3 in the morning. I needed to drive her to the hospital. My grandmother was dying.
When we arrived though, she was already gone. I will never forget the sound that escaped from my mother’s throat. Like she was trying to scream but something stuck. My grandmother’s skin seemed stuck as well, he face frozen in a mask of half anguish, half relief.
I turned and left, hid in a stairwell to call my brother, left that room knowing I would never feel the same way about being in the same room as my mother ever again. And it never has been the same.
Later that day, we would call relatives, we would make arrangements. I would walk to the grocery to look for supplies and get lost, instead I would find a building, and in it an apartment I would move into a week later and live in for the rest of the year because home would never be the same, simply because I had changed what it meant; forced a redefinition. Without either grandparent in place to anchor what this family “stood for”, as loose as that foundation was, I felt I was finally free to go. So I went.