Category Archives: Books

Week 43: (Co-)Write a Textbook

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The scariest book I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s The Shining. It took me about three months to read it the first time because I kept having to stop whenever the story got too scary for me to sit still. I’ve reread The Shining maybe five times since, and each time, it never failed to terrify me. Oh, delicious fear.

Being a Stephen King fan, I thought I was well-versed in the horror department. Until I became a writer.

It is a different kind of terror that runs down your spine when you face a blank screen, a blinking cursor, a looming deadline, and realize that you have no idea what to write. Or you discover that what sounded brilliant inside your head turns out to be the stupidest sentence on earth once you type it.

When that happens–and it happens more often than not, I assure you–everything gets scarier than any Stephen King novel.

This is why it mystifies me over and over again every time I accept a writing assignment. Could I be a closet masochist? I know that fear of The Blank Screen lurks in the deepest part of my brain. But I nevertheless consistently insist on harping, “Bring it on!” whenever someone calls me with a writing project. Why do I do that?

And this time, to magnify the experience a hundred percent, I did not accept just any writing assigment. I agreed to write, with a team of two other writers, a textbook for high school students. In other words, I made a commitment that henceforth (until my deadline), all the words that will fly from my fingers will be intelligent.

I’m currently deep into the writing process. The outline’s done, the research is ongoing. I am now in the how-can-I-call-myself-a-writer-it-is-a-lie part of my writing. It involves staring at the computer and blubbering at the awful writing I’ve so far done. (This is also the time when I hypocritically refuse to Walk the Talk–I secretly eat chips while writing, and then hide the foil packaging deep in my desk drawer so The One With The Toilet Humor and The Manipulator won’t discover my indiscretion.)

This is a temporary phase of dementia that always passes. Once I start editing, I somehow drop all the fear and assume the personality of a hoity toity high school English teacher who loves her commas.

And then I start it all over again on another project.

A few months ago, I visited Puerto Princesa, Palawan with the Green Initiative and got to climb the famous Ugong Rock. To get down, we had to ride a zipline the length of a football field, about 75 feet from the ground. It terrified me, but the urge to do it was impossible to ignore. So I got harnessed up and faced my fear.

Maybe writing does the same thing; that’s why I keep doing it. It hits me with this persistent fear. But after quaking in my shoes for a bit, I step forward and write the first word, and the word after that. It is my way of living despite fear until I am no longer afraid.

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Week 40: Appreciate art

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To end last weekend, The Hub, The One with the Toilet Humor, The Manipulator, and I spent a couple of hours at an art fair, aptly dubbedArt Fair Philippines 2014. It was The Hub’s and my attempt to get the kids to grow up with an appreciation of culture running through their veins.

It was ingenious how the organizers did it–they converted the top two floors of a parking lot in Makati’s business district into an air-conditioned gallery. Twenty-eight art galleries–many from the Philippines but also some from other parts of Southeast Asia–participated in this four-day fair, bringing in loads of contemporary art pieces created by Filipino artists.

In the elevator going up, I had a little talk with the kids: “We don’t touch any of the art. Anything that’s not the floor or a moving person, we don’t touch, okay?”

My rule fell on deaf ears, however. The first thing The Manipulator did when we got to the entrance was to poke one of the canvas bags that was part of a wall installation. In the process of doing this, he and The One with the Toilet Humor discovered that there were rocks inside the bags. I caught The One with the Toilet Humor, who has a fascination with rocks, sneaking out one of the rocks to add to her collection. (But otherwise, they’re really good kids. Except they have the attention span of a fingernail.)

The second thing that caught their attention was a group of brightly-painted ping-pong tables by artist Louie Cordero. Some people were playing table tennis on the tables, which were cordoned off, for some reason. When The One with the Toilet Humor and The Manipulator realized they were too short to play ping-pong, they moved on to the next exhibit.

Looking at the art in some of the spaces, I zoomed back to my first job. It was at an art gallery. I remember walking through the gallery during slow afternoons, looking at the pieces, wondering desperately if I was stupid or if the paintings really did nothing for anyone. I would stare at a modern sculpture for 20 minutes, trying to figure out what it meant. More often than not, I’d walk away without a clue.

I found myself doing the same thing at the art fair. There was this striking piece–it was a black wooden armchair with the seat and the back taken out. In their place were plastic utensils in bright red, stuck together. What did it all mean? I had no idea.

Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor

Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor


This pink bird was part of a menagerie that included a stuffed human with a horse’s head, and what looked like Death in a green robe with visible orange mending. This space was one of the most colorful, which made it one of the kids’ favorite spots. But I had to ask again, what did it all mean? Why were they created?

Sculpture by Daniel dela Cruz. Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor.

Sculpture by Daniel dela Cruz. Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor.


I found my favorite spot in a quiet corner. It featured intricate sculptures of scenes from Alice in Wonderland, by sculptor Daniel dela Cruz. The pieces were so meticulously crafted that you could almost hear the white rabbit say, “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late for a very important date!”

A few steps away were the fluid glass sculptures of famed glass sculptor Ramon Orlina. In emerald green and aqua blue, Orlina’s pieces didn’t grab you. Instead, they caressed your hands and held them so that you could feel waves of cold saltwater dancing around your fingers.

Another turn, and there was a neat pile of books, spines facing the wall, holding up one end of a shelf. On it were framed pages–the last pages of about 50 classic books. It didn’t matter what they said, as long as they ended with the same two words: The End. This installation was so weird but, somehow, also strangely comforting to me.

The piece de resistance for The Manipulator and The One with the Toilet Humor was, unfortunately, an installation that included real orange macarons. (“Come back at closing time and they’ll give away the macarons,” someone whispered to me.) The kids didn’t think this octopus-like thing was included in my Golden Rule of Not Touching because it was made partly of food.

I was standing a few feet away, distracted by some other art piece, when I spied The Manipulator and The One with the Toilet Humor slowly trying to squeeze two macarons away from the rest of the octopus tentacles. At that moment, I felt like I was in a dream, moving in slow-mo, arms extended, face contorted, screaming, “Noooooooooo,” but knowing that I would be too late.

But I did manage to stop them from shaming our family eternally in the eyes of the art community.

And just like that, it was time to go.

I asked the kids, “How did the art make you feel?”

“It made me feel bored,” The One with the Toilet Humor said.

“It made me feel hungry and sleepy,” The Manipulator said.

I realized I was doing it wrong back then at my art gallery. Art doesn’t have to mean something absolute to everyone. All it has to do is make you feel something–even boredom and hunger. And it would have earned that spot on the wall, that space on the pedestal.

Week 30: Visit the World’s Largest Floating Book Fair

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The Logos Hope carries over 5,000 book titles, a bunch of toys (for sale and for play), and about 400 friendly volunteers from over 45 different countries. It’s now in Subic but when it was docked at the Eva Macapagal Super Terminal (behind Manila Hotel), it warranted a visit from The Tactless Child, The One Who Spits, and I. We went on a weekday and so The Hub couldn’t join us because of work.

Being in the Intramuros/Port Area part of Manila always thrills me. That was where I first became independent – I worked at an art gallery in Intramuros and it was a sweet experience. Driving to the port area, I think I was more excited than the two kids in the back seat combined.

It was their first time to see a ship this close and to actually go onboard. Walking to the Logos from the parking lot, I could already smell the saltwater. I loved it, but The One Who Spits pinched his nose and said, “Dross,” (gross) and The Tactless Child asked, “Why does it smell like feet?” My city kids. We got there mid-afternoon and the weather was perfect: a smattering of clouds muted the sun’s hot rays and the sea kept a strong cool breeze constantly coming our way.

The kids got in for free and I had to pay just P20 at the entrance for myself. Very cool! Aboard the ship, at the lobby, there was a seating area shaped like a row boat, with the benches facing a huge flat screen on a wall. A perky guy had the mic and welcomed everyone who came in. Just past this was the bookstore. Shelves and shelves of books! Most of the titles were for kids, a sprinkling of the classics, lots of animal books, some hobby stuff, plenty of spiritual books, no titles on the New York Times bestseller list, boxes of textbooks, spiritual CDs, and, of course, toys.

The Tactless Child immediately started pulling books off shelves. Not finding a bench to sit on, she settled on the floor, reading aloud to herself. The One Who Spits ignored the books and kept walking. “Where are you going?” I asked him. “Going home,” he said. Until he saw the toy area. And so that was how we spent most of our time on the Logos – with piles of books in front of the Tactless Child, The One Who Spits trying to open packed toys when no one was looking, and myself scooting from one kid to the other while scanning the books.

In the end, The Tactless Child got several books (which were priced very reasonably), The One Who Spits got a yoyo that looks like a sea urchin, and I got a cooking book for kids (hope springs eternal) and one about making over homes (which I just recently discovered I really like to do). No books for the Hub. 😦 The only photography books they had were for beginners and The Hub is way past that.

In the hallway outside the bookstore were murals of the story of the prodigal son. Strategically placed speakers led viewers on with a narration that was perfectly suited for kids. It added a nice touch, I thought, and it seemed The Tactless Child also thought so. She looked at the murals seriously, listened to the story. I thought she was taking it all in until, interrupting the story, she asked me, “Can we eat now?” The One Who Spits walked ahead, “Going home,” he kept muttering. Was I the only one appreciating it all?

The i-cafe or International Cafe sat right after the murals, with a play area for the kids. They sold popcorn, some sweet bread, and cookies. By the far wall, a quartet sang praise songs to guitar accompaniment. Crew members walked in and out, friendly but one could feel they didn’t want to intrude.

We must have spent over two hours inside because when we finally left, a full moon was out, glazing everything in silver light. The moon was huge, it was over the sea, and everything became magical. We spent some time basking in it, standing right beside the ship, looking out over the sea.

To keep the mood, I thought we could have dinner somewhere quaint and artistic. But with these two? No chance. We had dinner at Jollibee, bathed in fluorescent light, eating fast food to the din of noisy diners. But at least, it was a Jollibee in the port area. It still smelled like saltwater.