There are days when the right words escape me. This is from a line in "Wife-Wooing" by John Updike. Another vintage pen is featured here: a Parker Duofold Slimfold, inked with J. Herbin “Verte Empire.” * * * I know of two people who have the right words to say. Dr. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez, who holds clinics in Iloilo, writes about the barter system in this personal blog entry. In three hours, I am about to meet a stranger to trade my aloe vera on a Groot pot for a signed copy of F. Sionil Jose’s “Poon." Last week, I traded Lang Leav and Michael Faudet for a copy of Mary Oliver’s elusive “A Thousand Mornings.” Two days before that, I exchanged my son’s extra copies of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books for alcohol and other protective essentials. This ancient barter system was recently revived by Ilonggos through the Iloilo Barter Community (IbaCo) page in Facebook. With this platform, one can trade anything for another without having to spend: a cashless, non-c
I received sad news this morning, just as I was having my morning devotions on Colossians 3. My patient passed away at home. She was a Christian and was active in ministry. The daughter of a retired pastor, she updated me with the Lord's moving in their local church during her chemo sessions. Last year she took the news of cancer progression with the sure hope that there is a better life waiting for her in Heaven. I shouldn't play favorites, but there are patients who carry with them fans that revive the tired embers of compassion in me. She was one of them: a saved soul, redeemed sinner, salt of the earth. It has been the joy and honor of my life to have been her doctor. I pray that God's comfort be upon her family.
At some point during the day, I toy around with fountain pens. I have a humble collection, just enough to fit in a small pencil case--which is to say that there aren't a lot of them. (I know of collectors who have hundreds. I follow some of them in Instagram, which has a vibrant fountain pen community). Included in this collection are vintage pens. These pens--such as this emerald pearl Parker Vacumatic blue diamond, double-jewel--are sturdy, elegant, secretive. I got them from vintage stores online, and only at bargain prices. I will probably never know who owned them or what the first owners had used the pen for. Could it be that this Vacumatic was owned by an English teacher in England? (I got this pen from a kind and welcoming dealer in London). The passage above is an excerpt from John Updike's short story, "Unstuck." ( Link to a Google Books screenshot ). It's a story of a husband and wife who drive their cars out of the gutter after a night of heavy sn
On the way to buy groceries, I saw yellow flowers by the sidewalk. I remembered Matthew 6:28b - 34. ...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
I love Jonathan Edwards . I first heard about him through the sermons and works of Dr. John Piper, who quoted the Puritan author extensively. This Sunday morning, let me share with you a line from his preaching, "A Farewell Sermon," which appears in Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards . This is my handwriting in capitals. I'm using a vintage pen, a Shaeffer 500 Balance (ca. 1930s). It has a 14K solid gold fine nib. The filling mechanism no longer functions, unfortunately. But while I'm not a fan of fine nibs (I like my handwriting to look thick and wet), this Shaeffer's nib looks so elegant. I dip it in a vial filled with ink (in this case, Lamy Turquoise mixed with another shade to make it look dark) and write with it until the ink dries up. I like the ink smudges on my fingers. I think they're scholarly, but my friends think they just look plain dirty. Have a blessed Sunday, everyone!
Weekend treat: morning coffee and Mavis Gallant's "Forain," which appears in her collection, Across the Bridge . This line, where she describes the impoverished writers and scholars from Eastern Europe who are working in Paris, is a testament to her skill and insight into the human condition. I compare her prose to those rare human beings who only have muscle and no excess fat: they are beautiful and strong and will probably outlive us. "To deeper loneliness and cheaper rents"--very few can write phrases like that. If you're interested, the pen above is a Kaweco 70's Soul with broad steel nib, inked with Diamine Oxblood (my favorite red), which looks like the blood of extracted from someone with polycythemia vera, except that it has good flow (a long, run-on sentence best divided into short sentences for clarity, I know). The grid notebook is a faux Muji I bought for Php 50 apiece in a garage sale in Timog last year.
Totally out of context, but this line from an Alice Munro story captures what I want to do with this blog: a public space that few know about. Thanks for those of you who drop by. May is ending. I'm cooped up in my little space with books and prayer, pen and paper, laptop and Kindle. Yesterday I finished the series Trying on Apple TV+. It's about a couple who undergo the process of adoption after failed attempts to conceive. Loved the music. Characters were lovable. Story was uncomplicated. I want to go to Camden.
Before lunch I received a call from a friend, asking for a favor. Would I be willing to come over to see his company's new employees for work clearance? I was picked up by a company car that proceeded as if we were in Singapore: whooshing by the roads, mildly interrupted by checkpoints in the expressway. The sight of empty walkways and green trees after the brief afternoon rain delighted me. I finished seeing close to twenty patients. Save for newly diagnosed hypertensives, the consults were unremarkable. Unremarkable , uneventful , essentially normal —I find these words comforting, even if they may not mean anything at all. I was thrilled to see patients again. * * * John Updike's A Gift from the City is unsettling as it is masterful: James turned on her, surprised and stung. "Damn it, the trouble with people like you, who are passed from one happy breadwinner to the next without missing a damn meal, is you refuse to admit that outside your own bubble anybody
The sun is up today. There are a thousand reasons to be grateful, including today's preaching on Naomi and Ruth. I'm reminded that God never forgets to exercise grace, even among the backsliding. The songs we sing in church is a source of blessing. I'm edified by this week's selection, the classic "Trust and Obey"—the simplest yet most eloquent expression of childlike faith. When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way! While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there's no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies, But His smile quickly drives it away; Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear, Can abide while we trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there's no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet. Or
Beginning today, the word "modified" is appended at the beginning of Enhanced Community Quarantine . The government is slowly resurrecting the city. The trains will start operating. But other than the opening of Jollibee in the nearest mall, I don't feel much of a difference. I still walk around the neighborhood with caution. Proximity still scares me. In queues or on the sidewalks, I remain conscious of the one-meter distance that I should maintain. I back off or move forward, as in a reflex response, to keep my perimeter clear of other people. But, by God's grace, I'm still alive. I assume that you are, too, if you're able to read this. Word is out that the medical oncology speciality board exam is cancelled. My momentum for studying is gone. The cliché describing the unpredictability of life is taking on a new meaning, and it's pointless to dwell on failed plans and unrealized travels. There are bigger problems. A friend is still in the ICU. Some
Dr. Russell Moore enjoyed the NBC coronavirus special episode of Parks and Recreation . This past week the cast of the NBC situation comedy Parks and Recreation, which aired from 2009 to 2015, reunited for a special Zoom-call program to raise money for hunger programs during this time of pandemic. I can neither confirm nor deny that I may have wiped away a tear as Andy Dwyer (played by Chris Pratt) led the cast in singing “Bye-Bye Li’l Sebastian.” I can confirm that I miss them all in the saddest fashion. In my limited experience of pop culture, I clump Parks and Rec and The Office in the category of wholesome go-to shows if I need a good laugh and (virtual) human company. Dr. Moore references Will Schoder, who "argues that popular culture has indeed moved from a pole of cynical irony toward sincerity, and he points to television programs such as Parks and Rec and The Office as indicators." One may immediately revolt at the idea of The Office as an example of s
I submitted revisions to a personal essay I wrote for a journal. In that perspective piece, I talked about telemedicine and its impact on my clinical practice. I had fun writing it because the process brought back meaningful memories of remarkable people I encountered. Although I did not specifically mention him in that article, Mr. D, my patient for two years, would text me occasionally to ask me how I'm doing. This morning he asked if I was able to go home to Mindanao. He knew that my immediate plan after subspecialty training was to do just that. He was concerned that I had been far away from my family for too long. Mr. D has his own problems to deal with, yet he goes out of his way to ask me how I am. Praise God for people like him. His text added a ray of sunshine to an otherwise bleak day. Last night, the Philippine government shut down the operations of the country's biggest TV network. That I can write this piece in my blog without censorship is a blessing. But if thi
Rizal Province, during an outing with my Bible study group in church I don't think of the outside as much as I did when the Lockdown had begun, but I welcome the opportunity to go out. The strict lockdown will be lifted in about two weeks. I wonder how things will be then. The New York Times released a list of Books You Can Read in a Day . You might have the time but not the mental bandwidth for “Anna Karenina” right now, and that’s OK. In fact, it’s completely normal (even editors at the Book Review are having trouble concentrating). Maybe you want to save the thick books for a less unsettling time. If that’s the case, here are a few short, quick options that can help take your mind off the real world. Of course, you need to read Anna Karenina ! * * * During the lockdown, keeping a notebook might be a good idea for you. Here an essay by Sarah Gerard, "On Keeping a Notebook," via Paris Review, in two parts (Part I and II ). For the last two years, my
I'm taking some time off my academic reading, taking a chill pill for the day. Today reminds me of my time in Sydney: laid-back and relaxed, taking each moment as it goes without a dash of worry. For the first time in many months, I slept at 2 AM as I watched two episodes of The King: Eternal Monarch on Netflix. Is this the golden age of Korean cinema, or what? Parasite, Descendants of the Sun, Misty, Yong Pal—I've seen them. Those who dismiss Korean shows as mere Korean shows are missing the entire point: they are good pieces of art. I have come to enjoy them because, compared to American and European films, there is less sex (if any, at all) and more innocence and purity. The romance does not involve premarital sex. The good guys and the bad guys are clearly delineated. The music is extraordinary. They offer such clean fun. Too bad the next episodes of The King will come out next week. My friend Karen told me to watch them on Sunday evenings so I can binge on two episodes
The weekends have bled into the weekdays. Today is a Saturday, but I think of Mondays, and the long patient queues in the clinic, my harried colleagues shouting " Labas po muna ang hindi pa tinatawag! " to the crowd of patients and relatives who barge into the private cubicles at Room 107 to make sure that their oncologists will, in fact, see them, because the family had moved mountains to rent the barangay ambulance so their fathers and mothers and children and friends can find medical help after harboring their tumors for so many years because they had no money. We see the patients one by one. We listen to their stories as we figure out what is wrong. Sometimes, when the prognosis is poor, the reassurance we give them is the truth: that no matter what happens, we will do our best to care for them. In the course of the day we receive tokens of gratitude from people who barely had the money to get here. I remember the poor widow from Mark 12:41-44 who gave everything she h
My friend Rac shared a photo of her sister and nieces in northern Mindanao. She wrote that she wished she were home. I messaged her that I felt the same way: I still do, even today. Ah, homesickness. The saying is true: that no other place compares to home. Home, for me, will also be our small house in St. Gabriel. I dream of going home some day, when the lockdown is lifted, and commercial flights are available. The temperatures are feverish in South Cotabato now. At least that's what Nanay tells me. I imagine the quiet street outside. At midday, almost everyone would be indoors to escape the heat. My brothers and I would be inside, taking naps, reading books, watching TV, or, in Sean's case, computer gaming. At 3 PM, the flurry of household activity would resume. It would involve, but would not be limited to, my brothers cooking something in the kitchen. I don't know why my brothers are so good in the kitchen, when I can only barely manage to fry an egg properly. Sea