Saturday, November 26, 2022

Singing and dancing

Psalm is a beautiful poem by Michellan Sarile-Alagao, which I read this morning, after my quiet time. Psalm appears in page 37 of her collection, After the Sunstone. Prof. Marjorie Evasco referred to this piece in the foreword as her favorite. 
I would like to you to sing over me
a song of deliverance. 
I am tired of singing to you,
offering praises that don't get past the ceiling. 
If this is presumptuous, 
then I know I am forgiven already.
I am a little girl—dancing, demanding:
Look at me. Look at me. 
I am a child ready to play hide and see,
ready to be found.
Oh Lord, remind us that we were loved into being. 
Shout it, if you must.
Let that fact be the music I dance to,
and the song that finds me.
The poem resonates with my personal Christian theological convictions. God sings and is happy. God forgives and justifies us completely, not on the basis of our goodness, but on His unmerited love. "We were loved into being"—don't you just love that line? This realization moves the poet that this becomes the music she dances to. It is also the song that finds her. I can't help myself but remember the Parable of the Lost Sheep:
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

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Sunday, November 20, 2022

Paul, one year old


On the night of his first year with us, Paul resumed his open-pit mining activities in mother's garden. When we woke up the next day, we saw the horrific devastation to my mother's treasured flora. One would think he was digging to reach the earth's core. 

"Hala ka, Paul," we told him. 

"Wala abi siguro siya na-walking" was the prevailing theory. Because it had been raining that afternoon, he missed his routine with Auntie Nanic, who walks him around. Their ritual includes several rounds in the morning and a few more in the afternoon. They go as far as the plaza, where Paul greets his canine friend Vlad. He likes chasing frogs in the vacant lots and prefers to relieve himself by the garden of a community doctor. One morning, when nobody was looking, Paul had defecated there. The home's caretaker, who saw the deed, reprimanded them. Auntie Nanic's face must have turned red in embarrassment, and she apologized profusely. Paul looked ambivalent, avoiding eye contact, as if he heard nothing. She now gets into a state of panic the moment Paul exhibits preliminary signs of pamus-on and brings him to another less well-tended garden with wilder growths of grass and cosmos, and where the homeowners wake up late and perhaps appreciate the organic fertilizer Paul provides.

Nobody knows when Paul's actual birthday is. On November 17, around this time last year, just as we were preparing for a beach trip with church members, Auntie Net and Uncle Glenn brought us a package: an innocent, anxious, quiet brown puppy wrapped in a small towel. He was a gift from their neighbors in Gensan. 

When we first brought Paul to the clinic, the vet took an immediate liking to him. She estimated that Paul was at least one or two months old. His actual birthday could then be sometime in September or October. 

What used to be a quiet, ambivalent puppy is now a loud, extroverted dog. He wants to be let in private conversations. He leaves food for his frog friends, especially on rainy days. He is quieted by human contact. On Zoom meetings, I put my feet on his belly to put him to sleep. 

Paul can both be irritating and adorable all the same. But he has brought joy and comfort to our home. Mother's plants—those that survive to this day—will say otherwise.


Monday, November 14, 2022

Read then write

The poet Gerald Stein, quoted by Chris Hedges:
Your job is to read, read, read and occasionally write.

I should be finishing a nonfiction piece I've been asked to contribute for a lit magazine (it is due later tonight), but when I should be writing my first draft, I'm immersed, once more, in reading. It seems that, to get my literary juices flowing, I need to be warmed up by Bible study, poetry, or book excerpts. The best time for writing is in the morning, after a good sleep, when everything is quiet and still, and the concerns of the world—the hospital and the clinic—remain at a safe distance. 

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Sunday, November 13, 2022

Dr. Joti Tabula and Dr. Luis Gatmaitan

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to listen to two important and excellent lectures. 

The first was by Dr. Joti Tabula, who talked about creative non-fiction writing and narrative medicine. I call him Sir Joti because he was my senior resident in internal medicine. He has, in many ways, remained a mentor to me. Since the days of medical training, he has dabbled in his two loves, writing and healing, and has long since championed narrative medicine in the country, egging and encouraging physicians like me to share our works with the world. I am forever grateful. In his lecture, he used my piece, "Mother and Son," as an example, which was a great honor for me, but which made me extremely self-conscious. It is true that one's creative works take lives of their own the moment the author releases them into the world. I thought of this truth when he analyzed my works paragraph by paragraph. To be honest, I did not consciously think of using a literary device in this part, did not plan for them: they just sounded right at the time. 

Open Forum with Dr. Joti Tabula and Dr. Luis Gatmaitan

Sit Joti also gave examples of the works of Drs. Will Liangco, Maria Carmen Castillo, and Sue Ann Locnen. These are fine writers. Dr. Liangco has published his book, Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer, which I haven't finished because my cousin Hannah keeps grabbing it from me, laughing in a corner all by herself, like a madwoman. I will meet them, as well as the other CNF workshop participants, face to face by the end of the month. 

Open Forum with Dr. Joti Tabula and Dr. Luis Gatmaitan

The second was by Dr. Luis Gatmaitan, a Palanca hall of famer and prolific writer, best known for his books for children. His lecture was entitled, "Writing What One Loves." He spoke from the heart, which left us inspired and courageous to put our thoughts on paper. He talked about publishing his works in Liwayway magazine, which celebrates its 100th year; his foray into writing books for children; and so much more. The truly great people are the ones who are not conscious of their greatness. Dr. Luis exuded such warmth and humility that made me think of the kindest human beings who have walked the earth. Here's a screenshot of Dr. Luis and Dr. JB, one of the workshop participants during the open forum.

Open Forum with Dr. Joti Tabula and Dr. Luis Gatmaitan

Next week, we will discuss the first three pieces in the workshop.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Open forum with Gideon Lasco

Q and A with Dr. Gideon Lasco

I had the honor of moderating the open forum with Dr. Gideon Lasco, medical anthropologist, columnist in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and author of The Philippines Is Not A Small Country. His lecture, A Doctor's Craft of Writing, can be streamed here. His talk kicks off the Third Creative Nonfiction Workshop of the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of De La Salle University. 

We asked him to read Requiem for "Pamana," one of his column articles and which also appears in his essay collection. I'm surprised to know that his influences and inspirations for writing include the apostle Paul, Gabriel García Marquez, Isaac Asimov, Yasunari Kawabata, JRR Tolkien, and works of science fiction. 

Keep on writing, Dr. Gideon! 

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Sunday, November 6, 2022

This Sunday

Power outage in the morning, well into the church service, where the preacher talked about the sin of favoritism, expounding on James 4. 
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Then, communion, followed by first-Sunday-of-the-month lunch—a tradition from when I was a child, scolded by his mother for drawing and scribbling instead of listening to the sermon. I was, still am, easily distracted.

I’m grateful for Sundays: to be in the company of brothers and sisters and saints after a tiring work week. Their fellowship is a foretaste of heaven, where brownouts do not exist. For believers, called by God, this life is but the prologue to eternal glory.

Aunties in church spotted my two kilogram weight gain right away. “Been eating a lot in Sydney,” I said. “You should see my brothers when they return next week.” For how can one resist the delightful gelato from Down Under? It is out of this world—something else, entirely—especially Anita’s in Manly. It’s worth the long queue and the calories, which are meant to last merely for seconds in the mouth, but will linger on for months in the tummy. 

Anita Gelato

Drove to the hospital to see patients. Tried out a hidden cafe called UNFNSHD, praised by Adrian, my youngest cousin. The young ones know the best places to eat in these parts. From the highway, on the way to Gensan, turn left along the direction of Mezza Hotel. “It’s even better to stay here when it rains,” Adrian said. The skies turned cloudy, and it drizzled, but not much. We saw what he meant. I bookmarked café as a place where I can think quietly. 



Koronadal is a growing town, now with city comforts enveloped by the familiar sweet provincial air. Part of me wishes the urbanization ends here, but old, giant trees have been cut down in front of the Catholic church, cafés are sprouting, farm lands are converted to commercial spaces.

Later in the afternoon: finished Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Beautifully written. The language is exquisite. Wish I could write as half as good as Mantel. One can dream! The scene where Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell talk, where Cromwell longs for his wife Liz—so much of history and humanity in this extraordinary novel. It makes me want to watch the BBC Two series and read all of Mantel’s work.


Solferino Station, Paris Métro


I love trains! Yes, even the LRT! (Freddie, if you're reading this, do you feel the same way?!)

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Performative cruelty

Adrianna Tan, originally from Singapore, whose blog Popagandhi I have followed since college, writes about leaving Twitter and shares her thoughts on social media in general.
I am done, I think, with the performative cruelty of early social media. No more dunks, no more subtweets, no more yelling. If I am angry about something, and there are many things to be angry about, I plan to log off and count to five and go for a walk and write about it later if I am still angry about it.
Her term, "performative cruelty," hits it right in the spot. When Twitter and Instagram were starting, I found myself in a growing crowd of excited users. I itched to update my feed constantly. I followed writers, famous people, and random people I shared common interests with. But getting older has allowed me to gain better insight and to appreciate the value of restraint and privacy. I decided to "log off and count to five and go for a walk" instead of living my life online. I rediscovered the joys of keeping personal journals that nobody else will read. 

Since then, I haven't been around social media that much. My Facebook is deactivated most of the time. I only log in when I need to buy used inks on the fountain pen group on FB Palengke. I'm still on Twitter, a mere passive observer. The most I do these days is to "like" tweets in order to bookmark them for later. I archive my photos on Flickr, and write here when I feel like it. 

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Saturday, November 5, 2022

Grave, stayed, and solid

Matthew Henry on 1 Peter 4:
Let the frame and temper of your minds be grave, stayed, and solid; and observe strict temperance and sobriety in the use of all worldly enjoyments. Do not suffer yourselves to be caught with your former sins and temptations (1 Pet. 4:3).

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Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Berry, New South Wales

Berry, New South Wales

Snapshot of flowers by Nanay on our detour to Berry town, New South Wales.