Saturday, March 24, 2007

How do you solve a problem like Kris? Here's a literary solution . . .

*****This blogpost is not meant for those who are continually enamored with and fascinated by the public persona of Kris Aquino*****

This blogpost was spurred by the post the last word on kris aquino written by Ian Casocot in his blog (http://eatingthesun.blogspot.com/).

While reading Ian's boycott measure, I was immediately reminded by the anticlimactic confrontation of Merlin and Fairy Queen Mab in the TV movie Merlin (shown on Hallmark Channel).

After using their magic powers during their last confrontation between Sam Neill (in the title role) and Fairy Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson):

Mab: What are you planning to do? Use your puny sword?

Merlin: I'm not. I'm just going to FORGET you. (Turns to leave with the rest of the humans)

Mab: Merlin? What are you doing?

Merlin: (Glances back at her) You can't fight us or frighten us. We forget you Queen Mab. You'll join your sister in the lake and be gone.

Mab: LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! (Calls after former minions joining the leaving humans.)

Mab: Don't forget me Merlin! I . . . love you as a son! MERLIN! MERLIN! (Starts to disappear, to become invisible as Merlin and the rest leave her castle)

Merlin: (Voice-over of his older self narrating in the whole film) I had won. I was trying to smile, but it was a smile of desolation. Inside I felt only the pity and the terror and the waste of it all. Everyone I had ever loved, and who ever loved me - all gone . . . all gone down . . .

It has been said and written about that anything supernatural/paranormal only happens to those who who believe in it. That's why "unbelievers" debunk it as "just a dream, a fragment of one's imagination." Fairy Queen Mab slowly disappeared when Merlin and the humans walked away from her presence in firm resolve not to LOOK at her and eventually to FORGET her.

In counterpoint to Ian's boycott measure, I propose preliminary, simpler, more commonsense measures just as Merlin and the humans did:
  • switch channels or just turn off the TV every time Kris appears on it. TV viewers have to remember that they have this POWER.
  • if you see "that woman" in the pages of the newspaper/magazine you're reading, flip to another page or article. If she's in the cover, tear it off, ball it up and throw it at the nearest trash can (make sure it is segregated). If you have a marking pen, blacken out her picture. If her eponymous magazine is on a rack, skip it over.
  • when stuck in heavy traffic, ignore her ubiquitous billboards and instead conduct a survey on the thingimajigs that car owners in front and in either side of you hang in their front and back windshields.
  • if you hear her colegiala accented voice on the radio, turn down/mute the volume or switch stations.
  • if she is the topic of chitchats in the office, school, canteen, fx/bus/jeepney or anywhere, whip out and turn up your ipods, mp3 players, portable radios, and cellphones with mp3 player/fm radio. If you want to be bitchy, just tell the talkers to just shut up.
  • ask your techie friends to write a computer program that will block/filter any item referring to "that woman."
  • if you receive phone-survey callers, tell them you don't watch shows/read newspapers or magazines/listen to radio programs that feature her even if the survey question is about how many times you've gone hungry in the past month.
  • when someone initiates a conversation with you about her, just say "Whoooo?"
If these Merlin-inspired measures to ignore and forget this Frankensteinish public persona snowball, followed up by Ian's 1-2-3 combination boycott punches, may be, just maybe, the media and advertising moguls will sit up and listen to the loudest whisper we multi-media-soaked Pinoys can muster.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

PSICOM, Batjay, Tito Rolly, Me and Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point

Let me start at the beginning. When the second half of our 13th month pay was released in November last year, I went to National Bookstore (NBS) Davao to buy some books to tide me over the yuletide season and to give as gifts to close friends, nephews, nieces and godchildren.

That was when I saw Kwentong Tambay (mga kwento ng isang sira-ulong Overseas Filipino Worker) by Nicanor David Jr. aka Batjay on display at NBS. I was surprised to see that it was published by PSICOM whose previous books on text messages and ringtones, comic books and horror books I also bought in previous years. I thought that after reading all those depressing news items on suicidal-dying-dead OFWs, this book could be perfectly upbeat in maintaining the Christmas cheer.

So I bought several copies of it, browsed through it during the 3-hour bus ride back to Gensan. I was smiling and giggling as I read Batjay's debut book; so often I presumed that my seatmate and other passengers were becoming wary of my presence. My seatmate looked like the Tower of Pisa leaning away from me. Poor guy!

Fast forward to March 2007. I was rereading Kwentong Tambay and some info finally registered in my brain. First, like Bob Ong's books were culled from his blog, so was Batjay's. Second, unlike Bob Ong, who is incognito and remains shrouded in mystery, Batjay seems accessible (totoong tao). (I know Jessica Zafra - love her books - also blogs but I can't/won't risk an ego-bruising/ball-busting encounter on the 'Net with her) Third, Batjay is an alumnus of Notre Dame of Manila (more on this later).

So i googled for his blog and voila! I have read several blogs before his, but was turned off by the inanities and self-indulgent tone of many of them. Anyway, right smack on the first page of his blog was hard to find, difficult to leave, impossible to forget, an account of his reunion with ND Manila '83 batchmates in California. Serendipity, I thought to myself. Seeing an opportunity to connect with Batjay, I posted a comment:

hi nicanor,

mas nauna kong nabasa ang book mo kaysa sa blog.
as a UP Diliman student, i had visited NDM in ‘76-’77 when my aunt, evelyn yap was the guidance counselor there. i also met a ms. david who’s in-charge of the canteen. was she a relative of yours? i was also a notre dame alumnus pero dito ako nagtapos sa gensan (pacman & tuna country). hail, hail to our notre dame!!!

I got a prompt response from Batjay which started the ball rolling towards Tito Rolly, so to speak. In one email, I told Batjay about my new blog and that I'd appreciate what he thought about it. After reading my blog, he emailed and introduced me to two teacher-bloggers like me. And that's how I met Tito Rolly.

When I browsed Tito Rolly's blog, I was pleasantly surprised that one of his favorite blogposts was on Desiderata which is a significant part of my life (and will be a the subject of another post in this blog later) so that was where i started reading.

In that post, I read Batjay's comment about how Desiderata influenced him and he even embedded a recording of his narration of Tito Rolly's Filipino translation of the classic prose/poetry. And so I posted my own comment and offer to email the mp3 file of the original recording to Tito Rolly and others.

Tito Rolly said he already has a copy of it, but he most wanted to have an mp3 of Tom Clay's What the world needs now which featured actual voice clips of JFK, RFK (the assassinated Kennedy brothers) and Martin Luther King Jr. Right there and then, I logged on to my MIRC group and asked my chan-pals where I could find it. In 30 minutes, I was able to download and email it to Tito Rolly. I imagined he was like Aladdin having been granted a wish by the genie of the blog.

In subsequent emails between us, Tito Rolly told me it was Batjay who got him started with blogging for which he is deeply indebted. I told him the three of us are kindred spirits brought together by serendipity.

Now, where does Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point figure in all these?

Serendipity, as defined in most dictionaries, is an aptitude for making fortunate discoveries by accident. What i thought was serendipitous in my meeting Batjay and Tito Rolly may be an epidemic, an idea posited by Malcolm Gladwell in his book as "... any number of mysterious changes that mark everyday life ... Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do." An epidemic has three characteristics: contagiousness, little causes having big effects, and change happening not gradually but in one dramatic moment called the "tipping point."

I think PSICOM started the epidemic which brought together Batjay, Tito Rolly and me. When it started publishing books on texting ang ringtones in the late 90s, PSICOM started its first contagion. A number of publishers followed suit but were not as successful. The contagion (texting/ringtones) was spread through cellphones creating wide rippling effects in terms of connecting people's lives and thus, making the Philippines the texting capital of the world. Think of texts/ringtones as the virus spreading through cellphones made operational by telecoms. Think of lives enriched/wrecked by those EB/SEB-inducing texts/ringtones. The tipping point here was EDSA II, a revolution made possible through texts.

The second contagion started by PSICOM was the publication of its horror books which spawned copycat books, local horror TV shows and movies. True, it became contagious that people started seeing/recording via cellphone cams the "paranormal." But this seems to be waning as horror books are now being overshadowed by the specter of real-life horrors like hunger, poverty, global warming, etc. No tipping point here.

The third contagion was when PSICOM started putting out books culled from blogs of Pinoy writers like Batjay and Jay Panti. Although Bob Ong's books were bestsellers, it was not "contagious" in the sense that it created no big changes. Maybe Ong's secret identity has something to do with this? Readers may find it difficult it to relate to a writer they can't put a face on.

In an epidemic, Gladwell named three players: connectors, mavens and salesmen. And this is where Batjay, Tito Rolly and I come in.

As this contagion has yet to play itself out, let me focus on the role of Batjay in it. Gladwell would call Batjay a "connector," someone who knows lots of people and has a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. Being a blogger since 2001, Batjay surely has made lots of connections with bloggers and blogreaders. Definitely, he connected me to Tito Rolly.

However, as to Tito Rolly, Batjay's role is that of a "salesman" who influences people to make changes in their lives (without twisting their arms). Tito Rolly confirmed that Batjay persuaded him to go into blogging. I've been toying with the idea of blogging since last year when I was wired, but getting connected to Batjay gave me the impetus to start one. I'm sure a lot of Pinoy bloggers out there would give Batjay credit for giving them the push. The fact that Batjay was named blogger of the year is a testament to his role as "connector" and "salesman."

Tito Rolly appears to be a "connector" too as he was able to connect to his students and poet-friends worldwide.

As for me, I would like to think that I'm a "connector" as well as a "maven" which Gladwell defines as a collector of information motivated to educate and help. As a "connector," I hope I was able to link up Batjay with my aunt. As a "maven", I was able to use my connections to help Tito Rolly locate an mp3 file he's been searching for a long time.

So, dear Breader (blogreader), what do you think about what i just laid out in front of you? Does it make sense? Or should I stick to believing it is all serendipity? Is there a tipping point we should look forward to?

News writing exercise for newbies Part 1

Here's a very familiar nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill, in its entirety as part of the Mother Goose collection:

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down, and broke his crown*,
And Jill came tumbling after.

Then up Jack got and off did trot,
As fast as he could caper,
To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob*
With vinegar and brown paper.

* crown/nob = head

As you can see, the whole nursery rhyme has a story to tell. News writing is also a form of story telling , however it tells us the facts or truth in what happened to real people.

Let us assume Jack and Jill are real children who met an accident while fetching water. How will you write about what happened to them in the form of a news?

First, you gather the facts by answering the following questions from the above nursery rhyme: Who, What, Where, When, Why?, and How?

Who were the children? What are their names? What are their ages? What happened to them? Where did it happen? What were they doing when it happened? How/Why did it happen? What did Jack do after it happened? After what happened, who helped Jack and what did she do to Jack?

As you will soon find out, some answers (facts) cannot be found in the nursery rhyme. However for purposes of this exercise, you will have to leave blank the answers not found. In actual practice though, you will need to find out the answers (facts) not gathered by way of interviews or research.

In Part 2 of this exercise, we will look at how the news looks like, its parts and how to place the answers (facts) in them.

‘The Lady or the Tiger?’: Facing Life’s Choices (My Favorite Book Winner June 5, 2005 Philippine Star)

December 1999. With the Y2K scare and end-of-the-millennium jitters hovering in the air, I found myself in a bookstore for some last-minute Christmas shopping. I was looking for the abridged versions of the classics Heidi and The Secret Garden to give to my nieces when I saw a vaguely-familiar title on the shelves: The Lady or The Tiger and Other Stories. As I traced the embossed title with my right index finger, a particular memory flooded my consciousness.

1970. Our sophomore English class of 40 boys was quiet as our teacher, Mr. Roger Rebucan, read aloud Frank Stockton’s short story The Lady or The Tiger? in a voice with a slight tinge of Hiligaynon accent. Our yet-to-be-raging hormones and our boyishness were piqued by the intriguing title which promised romance and adventure. We were not disappointed by the tale that unraveled before us – a love affair between a young man and his sweetheart whose father, the semi-barbaric king, wants to end. The king sentences the guy to choose between two doors. One leads to a beautiful woman; the other, to a hungry tiger. With bated breath, we struggled with the protagonist as he wracked his brain as to which door to open. If he opened the door to the beautiful woman, he would be forced to marry her. Opening the other door would mean his instant death. We heaved a collective sigh when Mr. Rebucan read the part where the princess signaled to the guy by moving her hand to the right but were abruptly shocked to hear the story’s final sentence: And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door – the lady or the tiger?

Just as it did in 1882 when it was first published, the story spawned a cacophony of arguments among us which, for one whole week, spilled over to recess times, lunch breaks and lulls in between basketball games played after school. If ever there was one single story that the boys of Notre Dame of Dadiangas Boys’ Department (NDDBD) Batch ‘73 remembered having read, I am sure their aging selves now would shout in unison: The Lady or The Tiger?

It was one powerful tale that made such an impact on my life. It made me realize then, as a 13-year-old boy, real life’s lesson No. 1: life is full of choices. Later, I would find some choices easy to make, some so difficult that it dredged up every metaphor I’ve come across: to be between the devil and the deep blue sea, a rock and a hard place, Scylla and Charybdis.

The impact was even greater with the influence Mr. Rebucan had on my intellectual life. As our English teacher, he taught us a language that resonates with dynamism when used as a tool for self-expression. He was as sports-minded as he was an avid reader. Being not much of the sporty type due to my myopic eyes, I would read library books while keeping watch over the school bags and uniforms of those classmates who played in the field. I would often see Mr. Rebucan reading in between ballgames he was officiating, in the canteen while taking his snacks, in the faculty room when he had finished checking our papers, and in the parade grounds while waiting for the civic-military parade to start. I was drawn to him because we shared something in common – reading. Pretty soon, I approached him for titles to look for in the library. With him as a mentor, my love for words and reading became boundless. He did not stay long in the teaching profession as he later worked for a government agency and a soft-drink bottling company. Years later, he and I would often cross paths in search of reading materials in local bookstores and magazine stands. Cherished books were exchanged between us.

December 1999. It has been 29 years since I last heard/read Stockton’s 120-year-old story. My pulse raced as I discovered from the book’s back cover blurb that the story has a sequel: The Discourager of Hesitancy. That clinched it! This book would be the perfect gift for Mr. Rebucan. I was sure, he, too, would be as interested as I was to know how the story ended. I bought two copies and sent one to him with a short note that I hope one day we could meet and debate on the two short stories.

As I reread the story that night, I reflected on the motivations (mine and others) that led to choices impacting my life, career and relationships. I realized that at the high and low points in my life, some people acted as the semi-barbaric king who forced me to make hard decisions while others, like the princess, led me to "ladies" and "tigers" as consequences of my decisions after considering their advices and maneuverings. Whatever their motives, I thank them all because through them, I have learned to accept responsibility for my own decisions in life. As Frank Stockton aptly said in reply to the countless questions he got about the story’s ending: "If you decide which it was — the lady or the tiger — you find out what kind of person you are yourself."

[This essay was the winner for the week ending June 5, 2005 of the My Favorite Book contest jointly sponsored by the National Bookstore and Philippine Star. It was published in the Philippine Star June 5, 2005 issue.]

Books I'm engrossed in

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Man Booker Prize Award). First 33 chapters of Part 1 are interesting. Main character Piscine Patel gets ribbed about his name ("Pissing"). Yann Martel approximates the Hindi cadence of speaking in his characters. Intriguing discussion on Hinduism, Islam and Christianity when Piscine (later changed to Pi) finds wisdom in these religions and settles the scores by declaring "I just want to love God." There's a mention of Manila Zoo in one of the chapters. I can't wait to start Part 2 . . .
Part 2 opens with a shipwreck, Pi and his family decide to relocate to Canada and sold off the animals in the zoo his family runs. So the boat they'd boarded sinks. His parents and brother missing, Pi finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a tiger, zebra and hyena (animals bound for zoos elsewhere).

Barbra - The Way She Is by Christopher Andersen. I bought my copy at Booksale SM Baguio City. Another in the long list of unauthorized biographies of the musical icon. There are new insights though to mark the usual milestones in Barbra's life (her second wedding, failed love affairs/flings, son Jason, etc.), although she remains an enigma to us mortals. Until SHE writes her own life story, we will never know for sure. As i flipped through the account of her life in the 90s and the present, the irony struck me that while she is a gay icon, her initial reaction to her son's homosexuality left much to be desired. However in the last live concerts she did, Barbra made sure to show how she loved Jason by singing Not While I'm Around (from the musical Sweeney Todd): No one's gonna hurt you,
no one's gonna dare; Others can desert you, not to worry, whistle, I'll be there . . .

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. Chapters are bite-sized but compelling. Burroughs paints a very contemporary memoir with broad strokes of dark humor (just when I am about to cringe at what I am reading, he goes for my funny bone). Just as he, as a kid, envisions to head a beauty empire, I flip to the inside back cover of the paperback and see the the author's bald pate. And i'm hooked!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

what the heck?!?

Do you have dictionaries for sale here?

This is the common question I hear being asked of salesclerks during my book hunts/haunts in used book shops.

I first heard this question on board MV Logos, sister ship of MV Doulos, when it docked in Makar Wharf in Gensan in the late 80s. Unlike MV Doulos, MV Logos had a greater variety of books for sale. I had a grand time piling up hardbound business books (at P100 per) on my aching arms. Not to mention sweating like a pig! (the ship was swarming with people of all ages and sizes).

It was only after I heard the same question being asked over and over again that I took time to examine it.

>Who is asking?

- mothers with elementary kids in tow. Good start! parents who want to provide their kids with a basic tool to learn English.
- high school teeners. A bit late! But never late than never.
- college students. Waaaaay too late! They're like old people asking if there's an available copy of Norman Vincent Peale's How to Win Friends & Influence People.

Having a dictionary/ies at home is a must. I'll be very happy to see a Filipino home with at least two dictionaries (English & Filipino) on prominent display than sets upon of encyclopedia untouched/unbrowsed on carved wooden cabinets.

>Where is it asked?

While a handful of used book shops carry secondhand dictionaries and thesauri, these come in trickles and are usually sold within a week. I can understand people wanting to buy used copies of bestsellers of years past, but people wanting to buy used dictionaries? Jeeze!

Used and old dictionaries, like old sets of encyclopedia, contain old words and information. A living language is dynamic and words change meaning as the world progresses. You only need to see how gay changed meaning from happy to queer. Not to mention salvage, among other words.

When I visit National Bookstore or Goodwill Bookstore, I make it a point to browse through the self containing dictionaries to update my collection. With P200, one can buy a good updated English dictionary. Filipino dictionaries are a different story though. The newest ones are priced beyond an ordinary Filipino's pocketbook. Even the newsprint editions are more than P500 each. The cheap ones are usually thin editions which hardly contain the burgeoning words that has been added to Filipino.

The ultimate dream English dictionary of any bookworm is the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a 20-volume definitive collection. If and when I retire, i intend to spend part of my retirement pay on buying this set. I can already see myself on a rocking chair reading it from volume 1 . . . or may be I'll buy the cd-rom version and read it volume by volume on my laptop!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

knowrish (know/cherish) part 2

As a pupil of Dadiangas Philippine Chinese School (now Junior Cultural Academy), i discovered the library at the faculty room. The books were all contained in one medium sized cabinet! I was able to borrow and read the books in it in one year (because we were allowed to borrow only one book at a time). But i discovered at Grade Five that a Grade Six pupil was a fellow bookworm. So from her I was able to borrow the Wizard of Oz book series and others (Enid Blyton & Bobbsey Twins).

We were lucky to have the Philippine Readers series written by Camilo Osias and illustrated by Fernando Amorsolo for our English classes from Grades 1 to 6. The series contained an exciting mix of myths, legends, classics, prose and poetry. The poem Abou Ben Adhem by James Leigh Hunt stands out in my memory because of the line may his tribe increase! In Filipino class, we had our fill of Mga Kuwentong Griyego (Greek Myths) and were further entranced by Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology in high school.

Aunt Evelyn initiated me to book hunts/haunts. She would bring me to Pauline's which sold magazines and occasional books. She once gifted me an issue of Jack and Jill magazine and boy! did she ever regret that. The magazine was ideal reading for young bookworms like me. It had stories galore and colorful illustrations, but what kept me occupied was the centerfold. It was a cutout-pop up project of castles, seascapes, underwater scenes. So with scissors in hand and glue in another, i would proceed to cut and paste portions that should be joined. The finished product I would further paste in a clean coupon bond creased in half and then I would request the labandera (washerwoman) to iron it for me. After that first issue, i was hooked on Jack and Jill and would pester Aunt Evelyn to buy me the monthly issue on display. Eventually she would go by herself to Pauline's on the sly. When I get a place in the periodical top ten in class, i would ask my parents to buy me an issue of Jack and Jill as a reward.

When Aunt Evelyn pursued her education degree at Notre Dame University in Cotabato City, she would bring me along during the summer session for a brief vacation there. And again we would hunt/haunt the few bookstores there. While there, she would have a coterie of college boys escorting her and the official chaperon (me!). I would eavesdrop while she discussed books with her coed friends and male admirers. Her book choices veered towards the Catholic church-approved ones like those written by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I remember asking her innocently what Sheen's book It Takes Three to Get Married when only the groom and bride do so (at my age love triangles and orgies were still far from my pristine mind.) She said the priest that officiates the wedding represents Christ as the third person in it. Every summer, she would bring home the books she was able to buy during the school year. These books would be kept in the glass covered bookcase in Lola's house. The top shelf would be locked and and the books like Sheen's were off-limits to me because of their adult content. The second shelf contained Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's School Days and other "safe for kids" books. The lower two shelves was stacked with Reader's Digests and other magazines. I would spend many a summer afternoon reading on a sofa. Lola or one of my aunts would find me asleep on it during siesta hour clutching a book or magazine to my chest.

On my own, I started my book hunt/haunt in Dadiangas (old municipal name of Gensan). Aside from Pauline's, there were a handful of bookstores cum school and office supplies stores. There was one next to the Talion building in Magsaysay Avenue which sold religious books and other novelty items. Uncharacteristically, i was more drawn to the novelty items. Once I asked money from Lola, Mama, aunts and uncles so i could buy the small carton cylinder on a string which made bird sounds when twirled overhead.

In high school, there was Crown Bookstore owned by the Napalas and City Bookstore. I would scrimped my weekly allowance so I could buy books I'd like to read. The very first book I bought was the science fiction Those Who Watch by Robert Silverberg (book cover shown in this page). It was about three aliens who came to earth and assumed the features of an old man, a young man and a pretty woman.

A resident alien and Ram's Bombay Bazar owner, Mr. Jethanand Balani, once showed me his collection of books on India, Gandhi and others. Unfortunately, these were written in Hindi. I remember visiting classmates' homes and seeing their 30+ volume encyclopedia sets displayed prominently in their living rooms. In the 70s, encyclopedias seemed to be the status symbol of the local middle class. I would needle my classmates why they had to copy homework from me when they had encyclopedias within their reach while I had to do research in the high school library. They would answer back that their mothers never allowed them to handle the volumes for fear that these might fall apart and get torn. An encyclopedia salesman almost closed a deal with my parents. At only P300 a month, they could get the whole set plus bonus sets of science volumes, etc. But they balked at the last minute. Later as a teacher, when I was able to buy a desktop computer set, the first cd-roms I bought were the Encarta and Britannica encyclopedia.

In college, I widened my book hunt/haunt to Davao City where Notre Dame of Dadiangas College had its school publication, The Vox, printed. As its editor in chief in second year college, I went through scrutiny by the Media Board based in Davao City. It was the Martial Law way of censoring college school papers and each article went through a fine-toothed comb by its director, Gil Abarico. The Vox, to my recollection, was the only college school paper in Gensan allowed for publication in 1973-74. While there, Deciderius Erasmus'
"When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food" became my guiding principle and with it, I was able to buy my first hardcover book Roots by Alex Haley. While it is fiction, Haley's epic novel drove home to me how slavery changed the course of the lives and history of black people. It shamed me because before reading Roots, everything I knew about blacks were based on s/explotation books written by Kyle Onstott and Lance Horner.