Sunday, December 31, 2023

On the first annual conference of the Philippine Society of Literature and Narrative Medicine

Moderated the Philippine Society of Literature and Narrative Medicine's first annual congress last night and chaired Prof. Marj Evasco's session on Close Reading Texts. By acting as "chair," that meant I introduced her to the audience and did the backend work of sharing PDFs in Zoom screens. I have always loved working with her. Was blown away by her insights on the poetry of Jean Tan ("After Winter, Before Spring") and Jade Mark Capiñanes ("Bioluminescence") and reignited in me the love for poetry. Poems demand time and attention, Prof. Marj said. I told her, in behalf of the audience, that poems intimidate us because many times we don't get them. When I asked her what we should do in case that happens, she said, in sum, that it's a natural reaction, but if the language and imagery captivate us, then let's continue to dwell on it and enjoy it. Not all poems have lessons to impart. 


Dr. Joti Tabula, trailblazing president of PSLN, spoke on Basic Concepts of Narrative Medicine, citing Rita Charon's seminal work on the subject. The poet John Brixter Tino spoke on Patient Narratives and shared his poems, in glorious Filipino, with us. He has a rare genetic condition that causes, among others, cataracts, which he alludes to in his poem about a visit to an eye doctor. Dr. Noel Pingoy, in his talk, Introduction to Medical Humanities, talked about the development of the field throughout history. 

Knew many people in the Zoom room. Some of my students and colleagues from the MSU College of Medicine participated. Dr. Analyza Galia even shared a verse during the exercise on writing about longing. Student Ellaine Grace Plaga offered an insightful interpretation of the poem, "After Winter, Before Spring." 


Saturday, December 30, 2023

Under new labels

Did some spring cleaning here and re-organized the major labels. 

  • Books/Reading: My latest reads, book recommendations, and thoughts on the writing life.
  • Blogging: In which I share my latest CSS tweaks and general thoughts about blogs, which, according to many, are dying. I disagree.
  • Daily: The daily grind. Also known as the "wastebasket" category, in which I clump posts that I can't otherwise categorize.
  • Faith: On Christianity, theology, and spirituality.
  • Film/Music: On movies, TV shows, and music. 
  • Medicine: All things medical. My own experiences and reflections on internal medicine and oncology. Might also contain slide sets and links to journal articles — so it's easy for me to keep track.
  • Pens: Fountain pens, pencils, paper, and notebooks.
  • Travel: In which I share stories about where I've gone.
  • Typewriter: I love typewriters. They don't make them anymore.

Removed photography and journals because I clumped them under Daily. Watching+listening is now under Films/Music. I removed links entirely. 

Because this post is about my tweaks in this blog, it's categorized under Blogging.


Dr. Will Liangco wins a National Book Award for his book, Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer and Other Misadventures

Dr. Will Liangco wins a National Book Award for his book, Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer and Other Misadventures. It's a remarkable book: funny, smart, compassionate, and not your usual medical narrative. I like it so much because I'm a medical oncologist who trained at PGH. But I imagine how the book can be a great gift to yourself and to your friends (in the medical field or otherwise), kids, nieces, nephews, inaanaks, and random neighbors who are thinking of going into the medical profession, or are burnt out by it.

His interview in has a pa-shout-out to the Creative Non-Fiction Writers' Workshop for Doctors by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of the De La Salle University. It's a welcoming and generative space for stories to be shared.

Why are there many doctors who are writers, too? "I think that just like everyone else, in whatever profession or stature in life, doctors have the need to express and share their own experiences, and be heard, whether this expression is in the form of music, poetry, or children’s literature," says Liangco. "It’s wonderful whenever we are able to create avenues for these stories."

In 2020, De La Salle University held a CNF (Creative Non-Fiction) Writers' Workshop for Doctors, which Liangco participated in as one of the selected writer-doctors. It is part of the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center's efforts to "boost collaborations and critical/creative exchanges between scientists and artists; to train medical practitioners in the art of life-writing; and to help immortalize the stories and contributions of our front-liners to this nation especially during these precarious times." The Philippine Society for Literature and Narrative Medicine was later created and spearheaded by Dr. Joey Tabula, one of the doctor-writers who served as a panelist in the workshop.

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Rehumanizing the Art and Practice of Medicine through Literature and Narrative Medicine

The Philippine Society for Literature and Narrative Medicine will be having its first annual congress today, December 30, via Zoom, at 4-9PM, open to doctors and medical students. Registration is free. 

The theme is: Rehumanizing the Art and Practice of Medicine through Literature and Narrative Medicine.

Registration link here. See you!



Friday, December 29, 2023

Updated blockquote styling

Used ChatGPT to make edits to the CSS code on blockquotes. I wanted a vertical line to the left side. I applied this update to the Blogger HTML. The result looks clean!

Vertical line - blockquote modification

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Discovering Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni's essay, Our Semicolons, Ourselves, is brilliant

Writing is thinking, but it’s thinking slowed down — stilled — to a point where dimensions and nuances otherwise invisible to you appear. That’s why so many people keep journals. They want more than just a record of what’s happening in their lives. They want to make sense of it.


Like a Tita

The Best Sentences of 2023 compiled by Frank Bruni in the New York Times.
Over recent days, I took on a daunting task — but a delightful one. I reviewed all the passages of prose featured in the For the Love of Sentences section of my Times Opinion newsletter in 2023 and tried to determine the best of the best. And there’s no doing that, at least not objectively, not when the harvest is so bountiful.

What follows is a sample of the sentences that, upon fresh examination, made me smile the widest or nod the hardest or wish the most ardently and enviously that I’d written them. I hope they give you as much pleasure as they gave me when I reread them.

My favorite in this list:
Alexis Soloski described her encounter with the actor Taylor Kitsch: “There’s a lonesomeness at the core of him that makes women want to save him and men want to buy him a beer. I am a mother of young children and the temptation to offer him a snack was sometimes overwhelming.”

In Pinoy culture, we call this tendency "acting like a tita." The English word, "aunt," doesn't quite deliver the nuance of the Filipino, "tita." For some reason, I remember my friends Carla Barbon, Bea Uy, and Everly Ramos. And Racquel Bruno! I hope to meet you soon, friends!


When school paper advisers visit

We had Ma'am Mervie and Ma'am Babette for dinner a few days ago. It was their first time to visit our home. They were our former English teachers, school paper advisers, and speech coaches. They have become dear friends we intermittently reconnect with in our chat group called "Intermediate Family"—not immediate family, because we weren't genetically qualified to fly out to an intimate Boracay wedding intended for Feve's closest family. 

Ma'am Babette spoke in a journalism workshop on editorial and feature writing when I was in elementary, which led me, happily, into the rabbit hole of writing and publishing. In high school, she also wrote my speeches for the Population Commission contests, which we won. Those speeches were printed in legal size paper, on double-spaced text in Times New Roman, justified, in 12 point, using an Epson dot matrix printer. At the KNCHS English Department Office, usually in the afternoons, she carved out time to polish my delivery. She taught me how to make hand gestures—nothing grandiose (or "bombastic") but natural. Two hands in front, with palms facing upward, the arms pushed outward quickly to make a point, accompanied by a smart nod.

Ma'am Mervie was my school paper adviser. She had brilliant ideas for The KNCHS Recorder, whose office I often frequented because it had a working computer, a dot-matrix printer, and good airconditioning. (I miss dot matrix printers!). Joining press conferences was a riot because she was around—a young, cool teacher with a rebellious streak and a gift for words and dry, crazy humor. She wrote my winning speech for a national speech competition organized by a veterans association. 

I owe so much to them. Too bad they're not teaching in the classroom anymore. They now occupy crucial positions in DepEd offices. They shine, wherever they go. 

Manong prepared cold cuts and aperol spritz as aperitifs, and, for the main course, lasagna, pork ribs, and three desserts, including pecan pie and tiramisu, which were hits. We told them, "We don't eat like this on a regular basis, but because you're here, we're pretending we're quite sophisticated."

Ma'am Mervie said kids these days write differently. "Lain na gid sila magsulat. Their subjects are dark and depressing. In our generation, we used to write about good, happy, colorful things." This gave me pause. 


Thursday, December 28, 2023

Unearthing the cringe-worthy archives

After the blog redesign, in which I reverted back to the first-generation Blogger template look by Douglas Bowman, I began reading my old blog posts. I've been thinking long and hard about deleting/hiding them from view, but, cringe-worthy and poorly written as those posts may be, they remind me of who I once was. Those posts feel like they've been written by someone else. I can change my mind, of course, but those posts are, for the meantime, here to stay, hidden in the archives, but discoverable by the curious. 

Unearthing the past can be cathartic. Nostalgia hit me when I read what I wrote about Tatay's 60th birthday. This was in 2011. He was so alive—and I believe he truly is, in heaven, and, figuratively, in our hearts and minds.

Making coffee

Made a double-shot espresso to rid my afternoon headache, fulfilling a promise I made to my kid brother that I'd use his Breville and take care of it when he's gone.

Sean is with Hannah's family on vacation in the Visayas, visiting beaches and zoos. He sends me photos of Cebuano dogs, confirming my hypothesis: the canines there look sleepy. Could it be due to their proximity to the sea, which cures all problems, including insomnia?

He's relishing his last days in the country. Spending quality time with his wonderful wife and in-laws is a great idea. This past week, Sean brought home many prized possessions from their rented apartment: such as his adjustable gamer chair in faux leather, his collection of keyboards (they're supposed to work in Macs, too, with a little tweaking), his plastic box of electric wires and extension cords, all cleaned and organized. In this respect, among many others, Sean and I are vastly different. I would throw all things inside a baul, whereas Sean would meticulously label, fold, and arrange them. He says I'm not careful with my things. I tell him to look at my iPad Mini, my Kindle, and my MacBook Air—which all remain functional many years after their arrival, even if they bear battle scars from my carelessness.

His espresso maker now occupies the kitchen counter, near the piano keyboard. Beside it stands his fancy grinder. Around these machines are coffee paraphernalia, such as the metal container he expressly told me to pump thoroughly so as to create a vacuum, a condition which supposedly preserves the coffee beans. A stickler for rules, he told me to weigh the beans before I grind them ("18 grams, that's enough," he said). 

Am I having serious separation anxiety? I will remember them each time I have coffee. My double-shot espresso tastes heavenly, a conclusion he will contest, if Sean were here. And who would appreciate my home made yogurt, if not for Hannah?




And that cowboy hat super looks cool.

Good news to the world

Been meditating on The Advent Project of Biola University these past weeks to settle and engage my mind and heart for Christmas. Each day features a devotional, composed of a Bible verse (it's all from Isaiah on this year's iteration), a poem, an artwork (painting, graphic design, or sculpture/installation), a song, and a brief reflection. Today's meditation is on Isaiah 49:1-7. In this passage, God's salvation plan unfolds to include the Gentiles (". . . I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles that you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth," says verse 6). That includes you and I who are not of Jewish descent. That is good news to the rest of the world. 

Christopher Harvey's poem, “The Nativity,” is featured the latest entry, and I'm sharing it in full here for you to enjoy and think deeply about.

UNFOLD thy face, unmaske thy ray,
Shine forth, bright Sunne, double the day.
Let no malignant misty fume,
Nor foggy vapour, once presume
To interpose thy perfect sight
This day, which makes us love thy light
For ever better, that we could
That blessèd object once behold,
Which is both the circumference,
And center of all excellence:
Or rather neither, but a treasure
Unconfinèd without measure,
Whose center and circumference,
Including all preheminence,
Excluding nothing but defect,
And infinite in each respect,
Is equally both here and there,
And now and then and every where,
And alwaies, one, himselfe, the same,
A beeing farre above a name.
Draw neer then, and freely poure
Forth all thy light into that houre,
Which was crownèd with his birth,
And made heaven envy earth.
Let not his birth-day clouded be,
By whom thou shinest, and we see.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Debut for a seven-year old girl

After getting a pedicure, Nanay says to me, "I'll tell you something." She had to wait for her turn to get a haircut in the salon. A seven-year-old girl was getting her hair and make up done for—she overheard—a mini debut. Nanay says, "What was her mother thinking?"

I say, "But that's their money to spend."

She says, "Sabagay." 

Correction of the week

The New Yorker has a feature called "Correction of the Week." In the Aug. 28. 2023 issue, this hilarious correction from Vogue magazine is highlighted.


Nagreklamo kaya si Dan Baer? 



Breakfast buffet in Madrid, Spain.

Happy birthday, Dr. Noel!

With the Medical Humanities Committee of the Philippine College of Physicians, headed by Drs. Noel Pingoy and Joti Tabula (back row, from left). Front row: myself, Drs. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez and Will Liangco. 

Dr. Noel Pingoy celebrates his birthday this month. I can say many great things about Dr. Noel—he insists I call him "Noel" and I try—but among my favorite things about him are his wise and beautiful essays about our hometown, Koronadal. His essays add a depth to my understanding of what it means to live in this quiet place of this world. His sentences give me pause. They are so rich and melodious, entertaining and devastating, with a cadence borne out of a life of careful reading and playing with words. "Tuod gid man, 'no?" I would say, when he writes something like this

I often discover this when I go home on weekends to be with family. Despite the six-lane highway, friends often stop, wave, and smile when they recognize you. They ask you how the parents are. They tell you how this friend has gout and yet won’t stop his daily dose of beer, or this former classmate whose blood pressure is way up the stratosphere but won’t quit smoking. They tell you how they met old teachers who haven’t aged a bit. They offer you turon kag bandi. They welcome you to their homes like a long-lost brother. They share triumphs and heartbreaks, secrets and anecdotes. Of course, the constant question about marriage and spreading of genes [smiley].

This is the sort of kasimanwa (town mates) I grew up with and got to stay connected after many years.

Summers then were quite punishing in Marbel. I remember the times when brownouts were frequent; we had to stay outdoors often, under the trees, beside a brook, or at my uncle’s farm in Barrio 8. But the start of the rainy season was a welcome relief; the heat was more tolerable, and the constant pouring in the afternoon was an invitation to run around in complete abandon. Since most roads then were unpaved, we had individual puddles in the middle of the street that became exclusive wading pools.

Happy birthday, Dr. Noel! What a gift you are to the world. 


Early morning of December 27. Read about bees and Elon Musk on my previously unread New Yorker magazine copies. I subscribed many months ago so I could get the tote bag. The magazines would arrive three months late. The tote bag never came. 

Lulled by the early coolness, slept on the couch. Awakened by Nanay who, at 3 am, opened the gate. Her new routine: walking while it's dark. Manong Ralph made coffee. I tinkered with my blog's CSS. Reverted back to the classic Blogger template designed by Douglas Bowman. Had problems with resizing the image width. Asked ChatGPT to help me with the coding to make the images responsive (that is, they don't exceed the width/margins of the text). The code worked. But the text appears after the footer and before each blog post.

.post img { max-width: 100%; height: auto; padding: 4px; border: 1px solid #ddd; }" which appears in the footer.

I'm stuck. But I like the raw aesthetic of the blog. A lot of design decisions here have been dictated by whim. Blogging should feel like playing. Writing too seriously removes all the fun. No wonder why I haven't been posting anything here lately.

Meanwhile, here's Paul, the darling of the neighborhood. After Simbang Gabi, our Catholic neighbors who passed by the house would call out to our dog, "Good morning, Paul."


Found the floating code and deleted it. Blog looks better now.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Sean's chair

Sean gives lets me borrow his gamer chair. He’s leaving soon and is distributing his earthly goods to his brothers who will be left behind. The swivel chair is ergonomic. It feels great to sit on. I see myself sitting on it for hours, writing on my computer and do teleconferencing. It does not fit my taste aesthetically—but functionally, it’s beautiful. My neck and back don't hurt.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Manu Avenido's Ikigai Ug Ubang Piniling Sugilanon


Prof. Marjorie Evasco sends the best gifts. Consider what came in the mail yesterday afternoon. 

The doorbell was not functioning. Paul was sleeping indoors, defying his masters' orders to watch out for passersby outside the gate. Frustrated that no one was answering his "ayo!", the delivery man called my phone and told me he was outside, clearly sweltering under the heat of the Marbel sun. 

I opened the package. It was carefully prepared, with a note in her exquisite handwriting that warmed my heart. It was Manu Avenido's book, Ikigai Ubang Piniling Sugilanon, translated into English by Prof. Marj. 

I emailed Prof. Marj, and here's an excerpt.

That night, I proceeded to read the first story, Sa Lalaking Naligsan sa may Interseksiyon. I was hooked right away because there are themes about politics of teaching and academic promotions and allusions to Murakami stories I am familiar with. The cadences of language are different and nuanced. Binisaya is beautiful. And so is English. I keep on rooting for the narrator, even as I write this. He seems like someone who actually exists in the real world: an educator who commutes to work and struggles with providing for the family and eking out a good life for himself. I hope he gets his promotion, completes his PhD, get married, and have a great life.


Tuesday, December 5, 2023


View from taxi

View from the taxi in Mumbai, India


Yapak, Western Visayas

Yapak, Western Visayas. Auto-uploaded from my mother's phone.


Shanghai Mama


Toledo, Spain