Sunday, January 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ma (...but I remember...)

Today, January 31, my mother would have been 65 years old. She died last July 2, 2005, due to some strange disease whose proper name I will no longer write down. Suffice to say that the culprit is a form of neoplasm.

My sister and her children, my brother, and myself had lunch together today to remember our mother by.

Roughly five years down the line, I do not recall my mother's voice, and yet I can hear it still. I no longer remember the lines on my mother's face, and yet her facial expression is still fresh in my mind. Does it make little sense?

I may have forgotten some fine details, but the essentials are still very very fresh in my memory.

Happy birthday, Mom. I hope you are happy, wherever you are now.

(And to the father of someone very special - he also celebrates his birthday today - I offer my profoundest wishes, too. Serendipity is such an odd yet stupendous and humbling phenomenon.)

I cannot remember my mother
only sometimes in the midst of my play
a tune seems to hover over my playthings
the tune of some song that she used to
hum while rocking my cradle.

I cannot remember my mother

but when in the early autumn mornings
the smell of shiuli flowers floats in the air
the scent of the morning service in the temple
comes to me as the scent of my mother.

I cannot remember my mother
only when from my bedroom window I send
my eyes into the blue of the distant sky
I feel the stillness of my mother's gaze on my face
has spread all over the sky.

- Rabindranath Tagore, "I Cannot Remember My Mother"

[But of course I remember...]

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friend or Foe

There is someone in my life right now that has become, to me, both indispensable and dispensable, depending on the circumstance.

Since communication happens to be a very crucial element of my existence, it would be logical for me to rely on this - creature - during dialogues with people whose language differ from mine.

He seems to be so useful, like a patronising fan of an aging rock star. I certainly rely on him for the most part. He is like someone who would win the Mr. Congeniality Title in some beauty tilt because he tries and has apprently succeeded in winning almost everyone's trust.

He is, of course, a provider of some superficial sense of security. Because, like a lot of people I know - those who put their best foot forward and calls everyone "Sir" and "Madame" until your ear aches, and hits you with a bread knife at the back - this creature has a propensity to do the same thing.

You think you are secured with him? Wait til you find out some nasty things that he is capable of doing.

There are times, when you confide something to him, he changes the context of what you want to actually tell the other person. It can sound a bit ridiculous (The sentence "Do you want to drink a little?" turns into "Do you want to drink a can?"), or sometimes disturbing ("Just like you" turns into "I eat you").

It can get even worse, because this creature can be really vengeful. It can actually reverse meanings ("I don't know" becomes "I know"). What the frigging heck.

Like a lamb, it will just look at you meekly, while the rest of you have started an argument, because of his follies.

I know better now think. I learned to be less reliant on him. He is no different from the many people I have come to meet.

Knowledge is one thing. Sensitivity is another. Too much reliance on someone or something can be fatal.

So, listen up, TRANSLATOR. I still need you, but I am already pissed with you.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Good Morning, A Very Beautiful Sunday Morning Today, N'est-Ce Pas?

This morning I saw the sun illuminate my bedroom window and the street which it overlooks, like I would for a good number of times.

This time, however, the morning sky seemed to be more magnificent in its blueness in spite of the white fluffy clouds that float by. The air had a refreshing chill that caressed my face like it have not done to me for a long time. The sun was just hiding, probably in jest, playing games with the clouds for the most part.

Sunday morning is always pretty for me, but today it is extraordinarily pretty.

[The essential, like what Antoine de St. Exupery had said, is invisible to the eye....]

May the rest of this Sunday be great for all of you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Year Of Reading And Rereading

It would have been more enticing to say, "A year of lying butt-naked somewhere in a beach in El Nido". Or maybe, "A year of soaking myself in the hot springs until my skin turns into a pale wrinkled grape peel" would sound just as appealing. "A year of wanton coquetry in the pouring rain" is something to really look forward to except that the imagery it gives me is similar to that of Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook, of which I am not too much of a fan.

Instead, I would discover during my (never-ending) spring cleaning that I have a lot of books: some I have read many times over, others I am not quite sure if I have read at all. The more I unearth my books from the dusty cabinet, the more I feel the compulsion to read them all.

Some books for me to read and reread:

1. The Little Prince: Airman's Odyssey

This is The Little Prince plus a trilogy: Wind, Sand and Star; Night Flight; and Flight to Arras. I received this as gift from a friend whose love for books can be gleaned in her correspondences. Thank you Cristy.

2. Amor Con A

A collection of poetry from the Colombian poetess Angela Becerra. A gift, this time from a friend who was on vaction from her work in Colombia. I am not done reading this yet though, but I certainly appreciate the lyricism of the poems, which are all in Spanish.

3. The Kite Runner

I never really got to seriously read this even though I got hold of the hard-bound edition over a year ago. I am on Chapter 7 right now.

4. A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Madeleine L'Engle is a favorite. It is the child in me, I know that for a fact.

5. The Deans December

I was reading this book last year, and I remember appreciating it, except that last year, my only opportunity to read this book was inside the car. When Je died, I sort of forgot about it somehow. As soon as I found my book I resolved to reread it really soon.

[A hundred and so books to go...]

Post-Mortem Lesson 8: A Moment Of Pristine Joy

"People have forgotten this truth...but you mustn't forget it. You become responsible for what you've tamed." - the fox to The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)


How much would you give for a singular moment of pristine joy?

If someone asked me this a few months ago, I would probably say, I would give my life and soul for it. Why so, it is because I thought i have become too despondent to think that joy can co-exist with my sorrow: I thought that when one is awake, the other is asleep. That's what Gibran said anyway.

However, it seems to me that I exist in an unusual yet comforting condition that I am being cared for by someone from another dimension, and that there is a calming assurance that I do deserve even just a singular moment of joy, in spite of him. Or more exactly, in spite of his absence.

That it is ok for me to be happy. That I need not feel guilty about it.

Joy came, sooner than I expected. Not once. Not twice. Many times over. It came like multiple slivers of light in a dark room that is my life as I have known many months ago.

[I did not have to give up my life and soul. I just had to open my heart and mind a bit.]


Now a new question arises: How much would I give for eternal joy, if ever there is such a thing?

[I am not too sure now .... but I want it bad, so badly ... ]

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rilkean Heart, Rilkean Reality (This Is...)

Xtin, my friend and favorite ultra-petite foodie, sent me a link to a video of "Rilkean Heart" by the wonderful band Cocteau Twins. Cocteau Twins is a favorite, and so is Ranier Maria Rilke, the great German poet who gave the band inspiration for the song.

The link was given to me after I posted my status on Facebook. (Yes, darn it, hahah, I have a Facebook account. So sue me.) The status is a stanza off this poem:

I live my life in widening rings
which spread over earth and sky.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but that is what I will try.

I circle around God, the primordial tower,
and I circle ten thousand years long;
and I still don't know if I'm a falcon, a storm,
or an unfinished song.

(Ranier Maria Rilke, 1875-1926)

I was watching the video, and the lyrics, as it is wont of most of the group's songs, grip me like it is my reality being sang to me. (Video below from TIMOL69.)

Rilkean heart, I looked for you to give me transcendent experiences
to transport me out of self and aloneness and alienation
into a sense of oneness and connection ecstatic and magical.
I became a junkie for it. I came looking for the next high

I'm sorry I've been putting the search on the wrong place.
I understand that you're confused, feeling overwhelmed.
Well that's a feeling state from then, the reality.

One entity on the planet, becoming truly self reliant
and become connected with something beyond me.
That is where I have to go.

I still cannot get over the song. I wrote Xtin about it, feeling wondrous, bothered, and mystified at the same time, as if serendipity has come to visit me in the form of a brilliant blinding light.

Xtin was quite amazed, apparently. She knows of only a few people who have even heard of the Cocteau Twins, much less listen to them. Hah. Pity the majority. :)

Back to my own musings. Part of my unusual reaction stems from the fact that I have been re-reading Rilke lately and exchanging poems with someone who likes Rilke and poetry too. Understandable. However, the rest of my awe lies somewhere. I just cannot put a finger on...

...almost unidentifiable, like many of the most beautiful things that can only be seen, not by vision, but by faith.

Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe. [La foi est de croire ce que tu ne vois pas encore, la récompense pour cette foi est de voir ce que vous croyez.] - St. Augustine

A similar post appears at Trash Radio Manila.

Pour mon grand ami ... tu étais dans mon esprit quand j'ai écrit ce post.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Different Kind Of New Year's/Birthday Message

A Different Kind Of New Year's/Birthday Message
(written by Gina Abuyuan)

(My - the blog author's - note: I have long kept myself from being openly supportive of tributes of any form to Je Bautista, the person dearest to me who passed away last April 4, 2009. Friends will attest to this, some probably wondering why I avoid it like plague. Then the new year ushered in, and I received a tagged message to this beautiful note by Gina, one the people whom Je regarded with extreme affection. I can no longer help but reprint this message with permission from Gina. Je deserves all the tributes people would want to accord to him, but he never ever fancied the attention and was always the behind-the-scenes man. He had a ceratin aversion to tributes, and it is very likely that he would squirm in the afterlife if he does see these tributes being accorded to him. This is the best that I can do in his memory...for now.


This is the year I wanted to start writing those thank you, "looking forward to better times" notes. You know, the kind of letter complete with photos of the kids and what they accomplished the year before. Obviously, I didn't get to do it on the 1st; screw that, I told myself. I have till 3 Kings to do it, or my birthday, which is tomorrow. Instead, my reflections had me writing a piece not about myself or my kids, but of my departed friend Je, who would've celebrated his 44th birthday last week.

I figure this is as good a start as any to say thank you to those who make us happy, remind us of the things that really matter, and live life in a way that gives you most joy.


Death, Dancing, and Living

2009 was the year I said goodbye to my friend, Je Bautista.

Not to make light of other people’s grief this past year—many lost their lives, some tragically and senselessly: At year’s start, I held Tita Nini’s hand and asked her to hang on for the launch of my new magazine and to see Derek come back from Dubai. Tita Nini, Derek’s mom, who made the corned beef sandwiches my daughter now asks me to make, who could still crack jokes, Ungas-style (may pinagmanahan!), even while she lay aching in her hospital bed. How I wish I had more time to know her more and better, be to her what I failed at many years ago, a good and dependable “daughter-in-law”. Nonoy Tan, a good friend to many and who carried on the tradition of The Oarhouse. He passed away after Ondoy had left Manila broken and weeping, and took with him the current hope that that pub, second home to many, would ever be the same again. Michael Jackson? Farrah Fawcett? Fallen icons of my youth. But all good things must come to pass. As Je did.

I was in Dubai on assignment and visiting Derek when it happened. He texted me saying he was in the ICU for a heart attack. Heart attack? Fuck, he didn’t even know it was a heart attack. He came in for a check-up, and was asked to come back just as he was driving away. We bantered back and forth about holding a party on the rooftop of my new apartment. “Gawa tayo ng health shakes!” we yelled back and forth, via SMS. “Imbes na Red Horse at Tanduay, blended apple at melon na!” And then: “O sya, mahal ang roaming, leche ka. Kitakits nalang pag uwi ko.” Just as well; he had to hide the phone, too. Mobile phones weren’t allowed in the ICU.

The following evening, a little past midnight in Manila, I received an SMS from Gigi. You all know what she said. I don’t need to type it down.

Je’s passing—like the rest of the events 2009 had for me—was the end of an era. I remember lurking around The Business Daily office on Santolan in the ‘90s, avoiding people who were annoying or just plain creepy, and stopping at Je’s desk in the corner, a safe place, a sane place. Going out for a smoke. He and his oversized polo shirt over a tee, ‘80s style. Was it Je who gave me the writing gig with Paskie Pascua? Who sent me to interview Tribal Fish in Mayrics? It must’ve been. I wouldn’t have dared or even thought of the subject on my own. Much later, when I married my future ex-husband, it was he I called when I needed a jazz band to play at my reception. When my marriage was at its most tumultuous—and his relationship with another was crumbling, as well—we were each other’s crutches and nemesis. We yelled at each other over the phone, blithering, blabbering, telling each other to “shape up or ship out”; checked on each other after each failed “suicide” attempt. Ah, Je. How stupid we were.

We were there for each other, too, for many triumphs and crazy-happy memories: the launching of Asiatype’s 100 Best Restaurants in Metro Manila (of which he was editor, me, associate ed; the book was on the National Bookstore Best Sellers list of 2002); looking through his formidable CD collection in his old family house on Visayas Avenue; and him showing me the rare sketch HR Ocampo made for his mother, poet, novelist, and screenwriter Liwayway Arceo, during the war years—delicately but deliberately done, a genius with a purpose—a woman representing the Philippines, on paper in which Ocampo’s in détente pandesal was wrapped; me and him reeling and rolling with laughter as we snarked about a band’s ukay-ukay outfits. Oh God. That was hilarious. It was a friendship built and nourished not only on common interests, but on the same insecurities (about our families, selves, writing, and relationships) and respect for each other (for all the same things).

Je and I grew closer in 2008, although we had touched base again in 2007 with some offshore editing assignments. After many years of not seeing each other, Kelly Van Dorn—whose husband Paul had hit it off with Je by sharing his love for vinyl and impeccable taste in music—surprised me with Je’s presence in The Oarhouse in August. Je gifted me with two box sets of The Clash and The Cure that night; literally whooping with excitement, I felt like I was in high school again. In exchange, I promised him with two Velvet Underground vinyls—one rare, one not so—and a couple other EPs of standard new wave bands.

The vinyls are with me still. As soon as I touched down from Dubai that frantic April day, I headed straight for Je’s wake. My ex-husband followed a few hours after. “Oh buddy,” Mardy told the face on Je’s body. “Oh, buddy.”

Je’s daughter Maxi, who I asked to write for the June 09 issue of HIPP (for which Je wrote music reviews), says: “It took me around two hours of looking at the white casket from afar, before I finally went up to it and looked at my dad’s lifeless body. He was smiling.”

It’s gotten more seldom as the months pass, but sometimes, I still see Je’s figure out of the corner of my eye. He’s faded from my dreams. In one, I see him on a stopover on a road trip. He’s smoking and asking me, “well, have you gotten over me dying yet?” Then he asks about Gigi, and he answers his own question: “She'll be ok. yan si Gigi, iba yan. she's in a class of her own.” In another, he’s seated in a busy café-like atmosphere, in his trademark jumbo polo shirt, still smoking his Winstons, puffing as he asks me, “o, ano na?” When I feel like I want to get a drink, the first person I think of is Je. Binky Lampano agrees with me: “Wala nang matinong kainuman sa Manila.”

And so I find myself very often drinking alone, as I do now. Tonight it’s red wine, and I remember how Je laughed. He had the most infectious laugh; a trill that went on and on, linked between sentences with: “eto pa…” or “eto ka ngayon…” Even on the phone, we did nothing but laugh. We talked and we listened to each other and when my stupid driver locked the keys in my car one night after a shoot, he and Gi and his ex-wife brought me home and we all waited for the driver to get back just to make sure the car was safe. It was that kind of friendship.

Every year-end (or any moment it would hit him, actually), in true music-phile, ex-The-Betrayed-bass-player-and-vinyl-collector fashion, Je would send his friends a list of songs and artists he felt made the most impact in the past year. I miss getting that list. Tonight I have to content myself with a song he sent me in March 2009 with the note: “With lyrics like this, san ka pa??” Attached was Nick Harrison’s “Something Special”:

Tragically dressed she arrives Holding her head off the dance floor And no lack of sleep in her eyes And who can blame her for wanting more And there are few with better taste And clothes that cover life's mistakes

In my head, Je and I will always be ska-ing on the dancefloor. No more angst, no more drama. We’d be in Ten02 or The Oar or that punk rock place in Cubao. We’d talk of the funny things people have been up to, and our erratic moods and how Gi and Derek take care of us. How keeping relationships are key and how money isn’t, most of the time. How it doesn’t matter, really, what you’ve been through. It’s how you live now. Today. How we should always discover new ways to feed our passion and stay clear or wary of things that derail us from what we truly want. How to shut up and dance. Just shut up and dance.

May 2010 be full of dancing for us all.

Happy birthday, Je (Jan 01, 1966-April 04, 2009).

For a playlist that would do Je proud, please visit, of which he was musical programmer till the very end.

(Images: Je in a coffee shop somewhere in Kowloon Tong; Joe Strummer's logo, which happens to be one of Je's favorite insignia.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Year That Was 2009, The Year That Is 2010

Welcome to the new year, and the new decade!

Personally, I look at the past with the least fondness, having gone through major upheavals which I would rather not recount. (Imagine my repulsion then when an acquaintance, in her usual "I me myself" quibbles, told me that she is sadder than I am, without even knowing any much about my state of affairs. Hahah! I say, sadness is relative.)

Instead, I would rather think about the faintest rays of hope that I saw in my peripheral vision. I, for one, cannot fully accept that it was all bad: things could have been worse, really.

Things can never be too bad. I am still lucky to have found and rediscovered these gifts:

1. The gift of friendship

Probably the single best thing that sustained me. I rediscovered friends and made new ones. They were around, and while many have been clumsy (which I understand, sad situations can make even the most poised people clumsy), they have been my inspiration to go on.

2. The gift of communication

I discovered this just a few months ago. How valuable is this to me? It means a lot when you want to say something meaningful and yet you are hindered by words. Confronted with this difficulty, you try to express in some other way. I experienced this many times (and continue to do so) with a new friend, which is a most humbling and enriching experience, because he is a person worth discovering and it is a waste not to know his value.

3. The gift of humour

Some of the most resilient people I know have an incredible sense of humour. Humour is quite hard to come by. I do gravitate towards people who are positive and look at the world with a wistful smile on their faces while knowing how to remain grounded. Humour can kill the most sour mood, and can melt the coldest heart.

4. The gift of poetry and music

I have always been surrounded by music and music-related activities. It is poetry, however, that I have come to rediscover. A friend gave me a book, a hardbound collection of works by the Colombian poetess Angela Becerra, last Christmas. For months I have been exchanging poetry with friends. Contrary to myth, poetry is the language of man set in a different tone, and as such it is for everyone to appreciate. I think that everyone should at least try to read a poem or two a day.

5. The gift of awe and discernment

They come together, yes, and I found out once again that I should not be too jaded nor too impressionable at the same time.

6. Finally, the gift of pride

Always, that singular thing that keeps me alive. Pride is used in the context that, in the face of adversary, nothing and noone can bring me down.

Bonne annee, mes amis et amies! Maligayang Bagong Taon, mga kaibigan.