Sunday, May 9, 2021

Heartbreaking work of Dave Egger's staggering genius

Dave Eggers

Teary-eyed at 9 am on a Monday, at Starbucks along Santiago Boulevard. Arrived too early for my clinic and had time to spare—the story of the young doctor starting his practice. Nobody else noticed me, the solitary man, sipping coffee, al fresco, reading a white Kindle. But who cries at 9 am on the first day of the work week?

It was the book’s fault. Dave Eggers’ novel punched me in the gut. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius spoke to me the way people who’ve gone through similar suffering communicate a common language, populate the same neural network. Dave wrote about his mother, dying of gastric cancer. Feeling an emotional proximity to writers, I refer authors on a first name basis (Mavis Gallant is Tita Mavis, for instance). “While reclining on the couch most of the day and night, on her back, my mom turns her head to watch television and turns it back to spit up green fluid into a plastic receptacle.” He brings her to the hospital, despite her earlier instructions on the contrary. I could see myself in the situation, could hear and smell and feel its mundanity and extraordinariness, could imagine that “loss is accompanied by an undeniable but then of course guilt-inducing sense of mobility, of infinite possibility, having suddenly found oneself in a world with neither floor nor ceiling.” Succeeding chapters narrate what happened after—Dave stands as his brother Toph’s legal guardian, drives him around town in a red Civic, brings him to school activities. Hilarious, self-deprecating, heartbreaking, and staggering, but also compassionate and affecting. Do read it.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

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My performance in Ganap

 

Was invited to read a piece for Ganap, a series of literary performances hosted by Likhaan: University of the Philippines Institute for Creative Writing. Thrilled to be part of this
Tao lang din ang mga doktor. Napapagod din sila. Anong klaseng suporta ang kailangan nating ibigay para matulungan silang kalabanin ang pandemyang ito? Sapat na ba ang pagbibigay ng mga PPE, face mask, at face shield? Mayroon nang bakuna, ngunit hindi natin alam kung naipapamahagi ba ito unang-una sa mga health worker na pinakananganganib sa virus. Malalaman lamang natin ang sagot sa mga tanong na ito kung tayo ay makikinig sa kwento ng mga doktor na kumakalaban sa pandemya halos araw-araw. Sa episode na ito, matutunghayan natin ang mga pagbasa ng mga doktor na nagmula sa iba’t ibang rehiyon at disiplina. Kasama natin sila Dr. Joey Tabula, Dr. Justine Yu, Dr. Elvie Victonette Razon-Gonzalez, Dr. Lance Catedral, Dr. Maria del Carmen Castillo, at Dr. Will Liangco. Huminga muna tayo at sumama sa isa nanamang makabuluhang GANAP. 
TUNGKOL SA MGA MAGTATANGHAL 
Joey A. Tabula is a general internist, anthologist, publisher, and poet from San Antonio, Zambales. He was the editor of three books including "Pagninilay: Hinga, Hingal, at Hingalo sa Panahon ng Pandemya" published by UP Manila last year. He has been a workshop panelist in the 2020 and 2021 CNF Workshop for Doctors by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. He is the vice president and publisher of Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA) and a board member of Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL). He is currently writing his thesis for MFA in Creative Writing at the De La Salle University.
Justine Yu is a neurologist and presently a fellow in training in dementia and related disorders at a hospital in Metro Manila. She was a creative nonfiction fellow in the Silliman Writers’ Workshop in 2007. Recently, she was a fellow in the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center 2nd Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop for Doctors. She comes from Dumaguete City.
Dr. Elvie Victonette Razon-Gonzalez is an internist-gastroenterologist from Iloilo City. She finished her residency and fellowship training in University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital. She completed her thesis for MSc in Clinical Epidemiology in UP Manila. Her poems and essays have been published in several magazines and anthologies (Philippines Graphic, Poetika, From the Eyes of the Healer, Ilongga Bicycle Diaries). Her collection of poems, Vignettes of Voyages, was published as an eBook last 2020. 
Dr. Lance Catedral is an internist and medical oncologist based in Koronadal, South Cotabato and General Santos City. His interests include precision medicine, global oncology, and medical humanities. His creative works have been published in the anthology, From the Eyes of a Healer, the Cotabato Literary Journal, and the Journal of Patient Experience. He has been a panelist of the Creative Nonfiction Workshop for doctor-writers hosted by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center.
Maria del Carmen R. Castillo completed her training at the UP-Philippine General Hospital. Her present practice is in both private and public hospitals in Las Pinas and Muntinlupa. Her poems were published in Caracoa 19: The Poetry Journal of the Philippines in 1988 as she was beginning medical school. Married, with two adult children who make fun of her gaming skills on Animal Crossing New Horizon, she continues to write to keep her sanity.
In 1998 Will used his one free elective to escape from pre-med subjects and took up The Short Story at the UP ICW. He claims that it has been one of the most fun and most formative courses he ever took, and since then he has always found it exhilarating to be in the company of storytellers. Practicing now as an oncologist, he writes stories and essays that try to find hope and humor in the frequently bleak landscape of patient care.

Friday, April 23, 2021

34—what grace is mine!

Kristy and Keith Getty's song is one of my favorite modern Christian hymns. The lyrics capture God's infinite love to me, once a "distant soul" whom "he called through the night." Thirty-four years of abounding grace—thank you, Lord, for making me live this long!

What grace is mine that He who dwells in endless light
Called through the night to find my distant soul
And from His scars poured mercy that would plead for me
That I might live and in His name be known

So I will go wherever He is calling me
I lose my life to find my life in Him
I give my all to gain the hope that never dies
I bow my heart take up my cross and follow Him

What grace is mine to know His breath alive in me
Beneath His wings my wakened soul may soar
All fear can flee for death's dark night is overcome
My Savior lives and reigns for evermore

So I will go wherever He is calling me
I lose my life to find my life in Him
I give my all to gain the hope that never dies
I bow my my heart take up my cross and follow Him
I bow my heart take up my cross and follow Him

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

When choices were limited

Paralyzed by the myriad of film choices in Netflix, I sometimes long for the early days of the nineties when video rental shops were popular. In Marbel, we rented VHS and Betamax tapes at the Notre Dame Complex, along Alunan Avenue. The store owner kept an index card for each customer. Listed were the movies rented out by each family. In those days, nobody seemed to watch films alone; it was a household affair that involved discussion and consensus.

Popular films—action movies, Disney animations, and Tom and Jerry episodes—could be leased for at most three days and must be returned immediately, or there would be a fee. Less popular films, like The Bridges of Madison County, could be rented out for a week.

My father would bring me, or any of my two brothers, with him to pick up the tapes. With instructions from my mother, who was partial to Harrison Ford, cowboy action, and historical drama, and generally averse to science fiction, we would visit the store, greet the owner (my father insisted on public courtesy), and proceed to the cartoons section. The tapes must have been illegally reproduced because they were covered in white cardboards labeled in the shopkeeper’s handwriting instead of the glossy, colored printed packaging of the originals.

When we got home home, we would have a say on what film to play first. The Betamax tape would undergo the prefatory process of rewinding—sometimes manually, but often by an electric machine given by aunts from Banga. This we did to ensure that the film started at the beginning. The shopkeeper often forgot to rewind the tapes before lending them. The film would then play in our Panasonic colored television connected to the Betamax player. Transfixed and transported to the dimension of imagination, we would all rest, content with the single movie of the week. If we behaved well enough, we could be treated to a Tom and Jerry film in the morning.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

With Uncle Boboy in Lake Sebu

Spoke too early about the paint fumes not affecting me. My nasal passages are sore, my mouth dry, my alveoli irritated. Everyone shares the general feeling of suffocation.

Decided yesterday morning to escape the house in exchange for cooler, fresher climate. Lake Sebu. Last time I visited the town was a decade ago. The prospect of zigzagging roads excited me, a new driver only used to city roads and straight highways. Dropped Nanay off to Banga, where she could spend time with Lola. Dragged Uncle Boboy, who had no plans that morning other than to fix the broken cabinet. Other aunts and uncles weren’t around. Sean was with friends. So it was myself, Manong, and Uncle Boboy for this trip.

Drive was pleasurable. Roads were lined with old but vibrant trees. The uplands reminded Manong and I of our trip to Banaue: a stark reminder of the beauty of God’s creation, and of the fact that we live in a piece of paradise in Southern Philippines. Arrived just in time for lunch at Punta Isla. Had sinugbang tilapia fresh from the lake; pork sisig; and pinakbet. While waiting for the food, we walked around the resort. Took touristy photos of Uncle Boboy with Lake Sebu in the background. Hearty lunch rendered us sleepy. Rain clouds hovered over us that we wished we had brought pillows and blankets. Nobody would notice us snoozing in the cottage; we were hidden from view.

“If your Tatay were alive, he’d love to go with us,” Uncle Boboy said.

“He’d do the driving himself!” I said, wishing my father were around. He loved adventures.

Uncle Boboy wanted to visit Traangkini Falls after midday coffee. Lady at information desk told us to turn right, head for the first bridge we see, then turn left. Parked by the dirt road’s shoulder when we realized the stream was too deep for the car to traverse. Walked all the way to the falls. Families rented cottages. It rained, and figuring we couldn’t go any further, we hid under a makeshift roof until the downpour was over. By three in the afternoon, we were on our way home.

Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy

Friday, April 9, 2021

Quick updates

1


Had a memorable time as panelist in the second creative nonfiction writing workshop for doctors hosted by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center (BNSCWC) of the De La Salle University. Extraordinary privilege to work with Prof. Marj Evasco and Dr. Joti Tabula again. They elevated the tone of the discussion. Inputs were academic but practical, laced with grace and understanding. Enjoyed close-reading the works of the other fellows: a celebration of literature and medicine. That participants could bond over Zoom meetings and get to know each other as if they had met face to face previously—it remains amazing to me. Closing remarks of Dr. Ron Baytan, poet and director of the BNSCWC, on the workshop’s final day were inspiring. He told us to be doctor-writers and writer-doctors, which sent chills down my spine. So this is what we are.

2


Some close friends in Manila have contracted COVID. Been asking them how they are, almost on a daily basis. So far, worst complaint is the loss of taste and smell with some cough and fever. What else to say to them but to drink lots of water, eat well, get enough rest, because, truly, there is no cure yet? Together we look to the Lord Who controls all things, and in Whom nothing is impossible. Other friends got vaccinated. Some good news, at least, but cases are rising. Even big people haven’t been spared: former president Erap, now in critical condition; singer Claire dela Fuente, who passed away after being turned down by many hospitals. Won’t get started talking about the Philippines’ pandemic response—it’s much too early in the day.


3


Started reading Don Quixote, the quintessential Spanish novel. Each time I start with the classics, I ask the same question: why didn’t I read this long ago? Truth is that life got in the way. Miguel de Cervantes’ foreword is self-deprecating and hilarious: he apologizes for not coming up with a more illustrious novel and tells of his friend who advised him to include remote references, Latin phrases, and pretentious footnotes to make the novel sound literary. Don Quixote, of course, is one of the best novels of all time. Wish I could have met the author; he seems like a fun guy to hang around with. Might take me years to finish the novel. The chapters read like short sitcoms.


4


Started private practice in General Santos City. Currently brushing up on my Bisaya, which I inevitably mix with Hiligaynon. “Unsa gibatì mo, Sir?” opens their hearts to me. Patients understand both languages well. Have gotten used to driving 60 kilometers, one way, in the morning, then another 60 at lunch time. Travels feel like my commutes from Mandaluyong to PGH, only more relaxed. I play pulpit preachings of Tim Keller and John MacArthur—the long roads now avenues for quiet meditations. On evening drives, I prefer arias and operas. Léo Delibes’ Lakmé, some Puccini and Tosca—pretentious, but nobody can see me. These songs keep me awake, at least. Whoosh of faster vehicles in the dark Tupi highway can lull any careless driver to sleep. Days ago, when I got home from late rounds, my family and Auntie Nanic’s kids were more than halfway through the new Godzilla movie that they hardly noticed my arrival.


5


House in St. Gabriel now being repainted. Fumes irritate everyone, except me. Might drive to Lake Sebu for lunch. Sean on his way to Gensan to buy new sneakers. Manong might go with me. He has books to read. Nanay might stay home to play a word game on her iPhone. Yesterday, I was her designated driver when we visited Auntie Susan’s home in Banga, beside Notre Dame. Could write a book in Auntie Susan's garden. Some photos of her home:

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Homegrown kadios for the quintessential Ilonggo classic, kadios-baboy-langka (KBL).

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Friday, April 2, 2021

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Driving milestones

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Driving at 110 km/hr, I opened my window shades to the intermittent whoosh of vehicles of early morning risers speeding by: my people. Sun was just rising as I passed by Tupi-Polomolok border. Fresh, crisp, hopeful air circulated in the car. Tim Keller's preaching played in the background—The Sermon on the Mount. From my view, I could see Mount Matutum. In less than an hour I was in General Santos City. My record time. An empty parking lot greeted me—an early Sunday reward. My patient said, "I feel better just seeing you." I said, "No, it is I who feel better seeing you getting better." I drive back home, in time for the Sunday worship service. To a person beginning driving in the real world, every distance traveled is an occasion for thanksgiving. 

Even in driving, I am a morning person. 

(Photo of Marbel-Gensan Highway taken last year, not today, because I was preoccupied. And I did not drive the vehicle shown.)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Bedtime reading

 John Updike's The Bulgarian Poetess:

He spoke to her very clearly, across the fruit, fearful of abusing and breaking the fragile bridge of her English. "You are a poetess. When I was young, I also wrote poems."

She was silent so long he thought she would never answer; but then she smiled and pronounced, "You are not old now."

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Thursday, March 4, 2021

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Night driving in Marbel

I grappled in the dark, until I found the light switch, hidden to the left of the steering wheel. To my right, Hannah, Sean's girlfriend, my designated teacher; Sean and Alyza, a second cousin, were in the backseat--all spectators and participants on my first experience of Driving at Night. Car stereo played my Spotify playlist, a collection of Christian hymns (Getty, Sovereign Grace, but not Hillsong), Broadway musicals, and some pop songs I could tolerate. I drove, steadily, slowly, making sense of tail lights, signal lights, fog lights, hidden canals by the narrow roads, breaks in cement, dim motorycles that seeped through little spaces between lanes and vehicles. As we edged out of the city center, the highway became progressively darker, the lamp post getting farther in between. I turned to my right, circled the Regional Office Complex, and drove back home. Nanay asked Sean how my driving was. "Puwede na. Hindi na kita mahuy-an (Not bad; we won't be embarrassed)," he said, the highest compliment. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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Neighbors bearing gifts

Auntie Liling, our newest neighbor, drops by and gives Nanay fresh flowers. Auntie Liling lives in the lot next to ours. She is the sister and primary caretaker of her older brother, the retired priest, whom we refer to as Padre. Nothing thrills my mother like fresh flowers, so they're up on display at home.
  Gifts from friends and neighbors

Uncle Boy, dear brother from church, drops by to give us langka, freshly picked from his tree. People refer to seasons here by way of fruits—langka season, mango season, and so on. 

Gifts from friends and neighbors


What a blessing to have friends and neighbors!

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Vinta Sea Kelp (Leyte 1944)

Vinta Leyte

Received what may easily be one of my favorite inks—the Vinta Sea Kelp (Leyte 1944).

The Battle of the Leyte Gulf is where the Japanese were ultimately defeated at the end of WWII. Leyte is also one of the biggest producers of Kelp. This gentle green ink evokes the color of kelp as it floats in the bright clear seawaters of Leyte.

Never been to Leyte, but the green ink is a good shade, on the darker side. Not sure if it's dark enough to escape the notice of pharmacists and nurses. Whose idea was it to only use black and blue pens in medical charts anyway? For the meantime, Vinta Sea Kelp is a fine piece of work by Filipino ink makers. It will hold a special place in my private journals and notes—and, who knows, medical charts. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Disturbed

Review for oral exam. Brothers, both extremely light sleepers, call me "abnormal" because I wake up at 3 am and turn on the lights in the living room. Can't quite explain why I'm a morning person, why my mind is at its sharpest in the wee hours of the morning. It's like asking why the grass is green, and so on. Sean says he thinks a thief has broken in because my footsteps are loud, and irritating noises emerge from the kitchen when I make a pour-over. I say, "If that happens, get out of bed, and make coffee for me." When my brothers wake up at six, they will complain of the same things. After a while, they regard me with pity—their 33-year old brother, still at his notes. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Code switching

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

It's normal for people to talk in South Cotabato to answer in Hiligaynon when you ask them in Bisaya or Tagalog. I have Bisaya- and Hiligaynon-speaking cousins who perfectly understand Tagalog and English. As a doctor, it makes my patients comfortable if I speak to them in their lingua franca. I can barely scrape a workable Ilocano vocabulary, but my patients from Tantangan and some parts of Tacurong and Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, are impressed that I can say that the weather outside is napudot

Plant hunting in Polomolok, South Cotabato

One Garden, Polomolok

Friday with Sean and Hannah. Sat in the backseat and slept through the entire trip to Polomolok. Plan was to visit One Garden, which Hannah, a plant enthusiast, discovered through Facebook. Garden lady was accommodating, speaking in a charming Bisaya accent. Gave generous tips on soil formulations—mix pumice, lábhang (rice hulls), and soil in various proportions—which I barely understood. Kind lady and Hannah dropped scientific names in conversation. When they spoke of plants, you'd think they talked about people they knew.

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah


Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Visited the Strawberry-Guyabano Farm in Tupi town. Queue in the restaurant was long. Around this time, light rain greeted us and made us long for home, so we headed back to Marbel.

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Road trip to Polomolok and Tupi with Sean and Hannah

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Ever receding, ever diminishing

Some notes on "Notes from a Native Daughter," which appears in Joan Didion’s collection, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." 

The trip to Sacramento is “one of those trips on which the destination flickers chimerically on the horizon, ever receding, ever diminishing.” 

Beautiful essay about the Sacramento Valley, told from someone who has lived there, gone away, and come back. 

So happy that I have discovered Joan Didion. Got myself a copy of “The Year of Magical Thinking”—which is about her husband’s death. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

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How I celebrated World Cancer Day on February 4

After breakfast, a doctor-friend picks me up to bring me to a hospital not far from where I live. His sister has brain tumor. Since day one of chemo, she hasn’t had seizures or headaches. My heart rejoices, cautiously and prayerfully.

When I come back to the city just before lunch time, I visit my high school classmate, admitted for another chemo cycle. She smiles, groggy from the sedatives. The breast mass is shrinking. Most of the day, she feels no pain. I caution about constipation, but she assures me she eats papaya as laxative. I say, See you in three weeks.

In the clinic, my high school PE teacher—my elementary classmates’ mother, a church mate’s best friend, my colleague’s aunt—hands me her biopsy result, confirming that the tumor is malignant. I promise her I’d give her a dose of sedative to calm her nerves on her first chemo next week.

At 5:30 PM, we head to Golden Valley. With me are my brothers and Hannah, Sean’s girlfriend. Sweaty and breathless after jogging along the perimeter, we visit Tatay’s grave. Sean clears the overgrowth. In our silence, we express how much we miss our father.

As I walk back to the car, I begin to glimpse at what may be God’s purpose for bring Tatay to glory on May 20, 2018, just a few months after I began subspecialty training in medical oncology. Cancer hits the hardest when it’s closer to home—I get this now. I understand, in clearer terms, what my patients and their families go through. The tears cried in secret, the agony of waiting for the next scan, the assurance of mortality.

My family and I pray for my patients as we say grace during dinner. “Lord, heal them.”

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Jack

After reading anything by Marilynne Robinson, I feel enhanced by her language. Jack, her newest novel about a wayward bum, the son of a minister, brings us to the American era when interracial marriages were forbidden, even punishable by law. Jack falls in love with Della, an African-American schoolteacher, with whom he shares a fondness for poetry. But he realizes soon enough that to protect Della, he must distance himself from her. Proximity will cause pain and suffering, a ticket to a hard life ahead. 

Exhausted after an exam over the weekend, I have turned to Tita Marilynne to help me pass the time. I finished the novel last night with the idea of rereading it sometime soon.

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Friday, January 29, 2021

My Reading Year 2020

Books for 2020


A World of Love, Elizabeth Bowen
On Writing, Stephen King
Monstrous Devices, Damien Love
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar
Diaries, David Sedaris
Mother's Milk, Edward St. Aubyn
No One Here Belongs More Than You, Miranda July
Scenes from an Impending Marriage, Adrian Tomine
Across the Bridge, Mavis Gallant
Paris Diaries, Mavis Gallant
Traveler: Poems, Dennis Johnston
Friend of My Youth, Alice Munro
Self-Help, Lorrie Moore
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
The Nearest Thing to Life, James Wood
Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick
The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Alice Munro
Dance of the Happy Shades, Alice Munro
In the Country, Mia Alvar
HHhH, Laurent Binet
The Character of an Upright Man, Thomas Watson
Hermit in Paris, Italo Calvino
The Cost of Living, Mavis Gallant

Currently reading (January 2021):
We Shall Write Love Poems Again, Dinah Roma
The Early Stories: 1953–1975, John Updike
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
Letters of Note, Shaun Usher
Letters of John Calvin, John Calvin
Dreamweavers, Marjorie Evasco

Thursday, January 28, 2021

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Remembering Jason Polan



One year since Jason Polan passed away. Stumbled upon his blog many years ago. He wanted to draw Every Person in New York. Sketches were rudimentary, like scribbles on paper. No motive to impress; only, perhaps, to remember and have fun while doing so. 

Have been a fan since I learned of him.

From the NYT Obituary:
Mr. Polan’s signature project for the last decade or so was “Every Person in New York,” in which he set himself the admittedly impossible task of drawing everyone in New York City. He kept a robust blog of those sketches, and by the time he published a book of that title in 2015 — which he envisioned as Vol. 1 — he had drawn more than 30,000 people.

These were not sit-for-a-portrait-style drawings. They were quick sketches of people who often didn’t know they were being sketched, done on the fly, with delightfully unfinished results, as Mr. Polan wrote in the book’s introduction.

In memory of Jason Polan, here's my self-portrait. 

Jason Polan, in honor of
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