Siesta

I woke up a while ago from a dream of writing a good short story, of which I had no memory of after waking up, but had the slightest hint that it can end up--whatever that is--after series of revisions, as a good story. There is remorse, yes. Even the sharpest memory won't be able to hold much of dreams: I imagine it would be like running from an oasis with water cupped in the hands, trying to hold it long for a potted plant a mile away. There hasn't been much of a container to hold dreams, not even a notebook on the bedside table. I wonder if we actually can will ourselves to remember dreams.

On "reviews"

I am having a hard time "reviewing" short story collections, especially the collections I love, because there's too much to talk about. There's a Frederick Barthelme "review" on The Law of Averages in my drafts, having ended up with too much ideas. Then, there's Etgar Keret's The Nimrod Flipout.

Works by Atsushi Wada

from "Anomalies"

from "The Great Rabbit"

from "The Mechanism of Spring"

Knee brace

For some reason I found my eyes moist while my father was fitting a knee brace in a sportswear store. It's one of those elastic ones with a hole in the middle for exposing the kneecap. He said we should use his spare plane tickets. In the event that he dies, he said, I wouldn't be able to use them anymore. I told him we should go to Vietnam. At the supermarket he vents his frustration over the parmesan missing at the shelf we used to see it. Same is true with the muesli brand he likes. I told him they must have changed the layout of the shelves since, to our delight, they've placed the paper napkins under the Tissue aisle instead of the Picnic Items aisle (the latter also makes sense, but in the first place, paper napkins are a tougher kind of tissue). We wanted Shakey's but it's too noisy, and at Pizza Hut the waitress said they ran out of tomatoes for our thin-crust pizza. It has puzzled me--tomatoes, of all things--until we left the restaurant and realized that it was because of their preparations for this seven-year old kid's birthday. At least he liked the crabstick rice paper rolls. While in the Diapers aisle, our conversations led to his remembering that today is his brother's second death anniversary. Back at Pizza Hut, we've been talking about his friends and his increasingly solitary way of life. There are more old stories than new, things of the past, his cousin's death last year which really took much of his vitality from him, all these bound by a single thread: lung cancer. As a fourth grader I remember writing a skit for a class with some groupmates, entitled "Lung Cancer", and I remember photocopying it at lunchtime. With my curlicued handwriting, the woman behind the Xerox machine wondered if it was my handwriting. I am writing this down because of two reasons: the thought of taking a picture of him looking down at receipts of ATM transactions is initially funny, because he chooses the highest amount among the receipts and pretends it was his, but  to some degree I find it heartbreaking; and I wasn't equipped with Henri Cartier-Bresson's eye and Leica. Photographers are swift and nimble, while writers are slow, languid, meditative.

Domestic

I live in a house where you can clearly hear the pace of your breathing. Most of the houses built during the '70s share the same characteristics: they have the same white walls, rickety stairs made of wood, built-in cabinets, jalousies. The floors creak every now and then. The bathroom door is eaten away by pests. It brings to mind the sort of collective nostalgia I've read in apartment units during the reign of USSR, where every apartment unit has the same radio, tuned in to the government station; where even the print of tablecloths is prescribed by the government. Living here gives me a sense of living the similar houses I've been to: there's one in Forestry, a beloved mentor's residence; there are apartments I've slept over in as well: the one I was drunk at, while the other one I smoked weed in (that blissful first time!); the rest are apartments constructed in similar fashion, where I resided in for semesters, but eventually left due to disputes over rent, or because my college life was finally over. Kept in similar conditions, bearing the same polished crimson floors that are always cold to the feet, and at night containing the usual cockroach, and god forbid, the huge spiders of Mount Makiling.

The neighborhood itself are all bungalows, apartment units bundled together, with thin palmera trees (the trend during those days) flanked in each apartment's façade. Walking through the subdivision you will get an impression: balconies are questionable, and so are other artifices like cantilevers, high ceilings, glass windows. Yet such basic architecture can actually stand for thirty years with very little maintenance. Apartments, I eventually thought, was--and still is--a good investment.

My wife and I do not share the same sentiments with the move, although we both understand why we have to. For me, it's difficult to go back and live in the same place I've been to in college, since this time I do have my one year-old son in tow, and it feels different. I do pine for freedom, sure--but more importantly, I'm not into this idea of reliving those days.

I smoked outside a while ago and thought of writing in this blog. The habit will always creep in especially now that I'm stressed with this writing gig I have: to write five thousand-word articles about DVDs. I've been writing it last Thursday, and during typhoon Yolanda's wrath, and I'm not even close to finishing one out of five. It's driving me nuts.

The outdoors are amazing at night. The sky is surprisingly clear, with bright stars. Though Bulacan is similarly quiet and shrouded by trees, Los Banos is lusher, and more peaceful--tricycles are not much in use in this subvidision, and the main thoroughfares are at least five minutes away from our apartment unit. On a Saturday night, most of the neighbors are already asleep with the exception of the one closest to us, glued to a late-night movie.

Magazines, Year 2000

Ormoc is a place I've read in a magazine when I was younger, either Time or Liwayway shelved in those side tables in the living room. In the article were black and white pictures of landslide victims. Or something catastrophic. I had this gut feeling there were ghosts involved in the article, or in captions at least, since I'm pretty sure I wasn't interested much in reading it.

In the same issue is the Korean famine, with such harrowing pictures which, until now was embedded in memory.

A charming note

I know one or two writers who’ve encouraged their children to write and it’s a completely hollow promise because, to return to the more or less unique situation of my father and me, literary talent isn’t inherited. When a writer-father says to a writer-son—and all sons, all people are writers for a little while—you can be me, you can be a writer, you can have my life, it’s a complicated offer. It’s certain to fall flat. So, perhaps out of natural indolence rather than prescience, he never did encourage me at all, and I never appealed for encouragement. What makes you a writer? You develop an extra sense that partly excludes you from experience. When writers experience things, they’re not really experiencing them anything like a hundred percent. They’re always holding back and wondering what the significance of it is, or wondering how they’d do it on the page. Always this disinterestedness... as if it really isn’t to do with you, a certain cold impartiality. That faculty, I think, was pretty fully developed in me quite early on. One day, when I was still living at home, my father came into my room and I placed my hands protectively over the piece of paper in my typewriter. I didn’t want him to see it. He said, later, that was his first suspicion. But then I did announce that I was writing a novel; I left home, and a year later the novel was done. I left the proofs of it on his desk and went off on holiday. When I came back, he’d gone on holiday. But he left a brief, charming note saying he thought it was enjoyable and fun and all that. I think that was the last novel of mine he read all the way through.

-- from the Paris Review interview with Martin Amis

Smacks


I see Jellyfish (Meduzot, 2007) as three short stories bound together by a single thread. There's the story of Michael and Keren, a newly-wed couple who had to ditch their Caribbean honeymoon due to Keren's knee injury after an incident in their reception; then there's Joy, an OFW who braved her way to Israel to find work and eventually send her son a gift for his sixth birthday; and then there's Batya, a twenty-something waitress who developed a sisterly relationship with this little girl she found at the beach, lost with a life raft on her waist.

These three main threads branch out to smaller narratives: Joy searches for a job as a caretaker and developed a peculiar friendship with her boss, an old, conservative Jewish woman; the alluring writer in the suite above Michael and Keren's unit in the hotel they're staying in--thanks to sewage smells and the cacophony of traffic jams in their unit; the photographer Batya met as the unresolved conflict with her parents resurface at the beach.


The single thread that binds them is their desire for the sea. This means much for each character. In Batya's case, an accident gave her a head concussion which helped find the source of an unresolved conflict, a memory from childhood. It feels weak that the very trigger which thrown her life into a mess--into an apartment without proper plumbing, living a life as a waitress for a wedding caterer, breaking up with her boyfriend at the start of the film--all this would resurface because of a head concussion. It resurfaced in the way life rafts spring back to the saltwater surface: a flashback to an afternoon at the beach (the same beach where she found the little girl) and the tension between her parents, bickering but "not in front of the kid", the memory streaming in Super 8 clarity.

The girl she found lost at the beach, the one with nothing but a life raft at her waist, must have been that very memory, personified. It was stubborn enough to retain the life raft.


Meanwhile, Keren wanted a view of the sea that their hotel unit couldn't afford. When the elevators were under construction, Michael used the stairway and met the writer from upstairs. There he found out that the writer was living in the very suite they've wanted, and out of sheer desperation he let slip his desire to get her suite. Keren's insecurity grew when her husband relayed this information, mostly due to his excitement in relaying it, as if he finds the writer (he even thought she was a poet) interesting. She asked questions: Is she pretty? She's not married? You think Dostoevsky rented a suite to write?


"If you have something to write, you can do it anywhere," Keren said, and in this line she was convinced it was preposterous for the woman living upstairs to rent a suite for writing alone.
"How do you know? Did you ever write anything?"
Keren knew her husband really is interested with the woman.
Looking hurt, she managed to say: "At least I don't make spelling mistakes."

It ended glumly, with a retort from Michael: "In Russian, I have no spelling mistakes."


Joy talks to her son back in the Philippines in kiosks. Her son is about to celebrate his birthday soon, and she's been eyeing at this toy, a pirate ship displayed on a shop sitting right next to her second caretaking stint with an old Jewish woman, Galia. So far her adventures in Israel was taxing at first: when she first met Galia at the hospital, the old woman clearly didn't like her, partly because she doesn't speak much of Hebrew: "Great, she [her daughter] can't even find a decent caregiver," Galia said. There was miscommunication between the two, but they eventually developed a friendship, one that both of them hadn't expected to bloom from the job.

Throughout the film the characters intersect each other's lives, cementing and compacting the plot. It didn't bore me at all, and it wasn't a stretch to watch. There are brilliant enjambments in the film, transitions that I find refreshing. I think these enjambments are also brought about by the film's structure: since there are three major plots, it has to be woven seamlessly.

Other than that, I wanted to watch the film to treat it as a companion to Etgar Keret (as I've been reading his collection, The Nimrod Flipout, ever since I started working in Makati.