In my head there were 700 earphones to untangle - one by one, there were so many - a mound of threads. Each was a task that would take years. He said it had to be in complete darkness - he said you had to until your eyes give up, until your nose picks up the slightest whiff of ear and wax and sweat stuck on hair. You have to lay each pair straight and next to each other. My finger muscles were stiff as claws, and my palms have callouses that swelled like paws. In a beat my head started to ache when one earphone blasted music, from which gadget I do not know. It was faint for what seemed like months, like a murmur cupped with a hand. In an instant the sound grew loud - it had life and words and threads of conversations. I started running out of fear and tripped on the wires I stretched for years.

From 15 December 2016

"But I (they?) left on (all?) my glasses" was what my son sleep-talked about at 2:28 AM, while reading 'Oxford Postcard: Comments' in a digital copy of The New Yorker.

From 22 November 2016

What makes me happy: An empty hamper. Bills paid on the dot. The way four year-olds say 'I love you.' Travel plans. My wife's baking. Reading a beautiful story until the end. Writing about the beautiful story. A good perfume. Mown grass. Snails in the garden. Places where you look up to see tree canopies or clear skies. Beef steak for dinner. Eating a meal in the same pot where I cooked it. Drinking cold water straight out of the pitcher. Bare, narrow ankles.

From 9 August 2017

He was humming one of those hymns from a Philippine Airlines ad while eating the white-wine chicken adobo I made, and he said: "Ang sarap ng fat!" (On his first spoonful: "Have I tasted this before? This is so gooood!" At times he finds the garlic a bit too spicy (I put pounded garlic as instructed by Dad: saute the half, cook the adobo the usual way, and throw in the other half at the last five minutes before serving. It does make a lot of difference) but throughout the meal he couldn't shut up - half the time he was grumbling about the adobo, but mostly he talked about that crab we saw in Anilao, or how he watched this Youtube video of a couple on a holiday in Hawaii, which convinced him that he wanted us to go there, and I told him about my trips to Hawaii as a child. (He beamed and said: "Then let's go there with Dada," my Dad.) He talked about his classmate Jayden and how Jayden wanted to be everything: a dancer, a singer and a nurse at the same time. While he: "I want to become a pilot."

From 17 October 2017

My son thought of getting old and becoming a pilot and flying and not seeing his family (my wife and I) for a long time. He felt sad. I saw him rubbing his eyes. When I pressed him why, he cried more.

During playtime my son was putting pillows on top of me - I was playing dead. There was just darkness and silence, aside from bouts of giggling from a distance. Is that what death feels like? Is that how inanimate objects live?

On art films

Art films aren't necessarily photography. It's feeling. If we can capture a feeling of a people, of a way of life, then we made a good picture.  
- John Cassavetes

Iron Giants

Films make life a richer experience, because what happens now (you taking a shower) and what happens in your head (questions about what heroes are, what they really mean, what does it mean to be a statue - thoughts after watching The Iron Giant, asking your son if he learned a lesson - and he said I always ask that question, and I said you should be asking that question to yourself after watching a movie: why did they make this movie? How would people feel about it? How is it important? Its context, for example (Sputnik, spies, snippets of Cold War in TVs, newspapers, etc.) is intriguing: the age of space exploration is a proxy to technogical and scientific warfare, and instead of the nature of a giant robot becoming the interest of the people, it suddenly embodied the self-centred predicament of humankind, it became embroiled in a struggle that could mean the end of the world) can happen together, can coexist, the racing thoughts (child asks if we have a statue of a hero, I said yes, it's Rizal - he hasn't been to Luneta yet) that are seemingly disconnected with the task at hand (wrapping up a five year old in a towel, more tasks in line: get clothes, clean his ears, trim his toenails and fingernails...) become a slice of life, a source of meaning.


Got very lucky with a taxi driver when Uber and Grab failed to pick me up. Smart old man has five kids, three of which already graduated from college. He said that after my trip, he will pick up his eldest, a barista, at Jupiter, since it's raining. He would feel sorry for his son if he commutes in very bad weather. He strikes me as a man who's content with life. He worked at San Miguel as a truck driver for decades, and left because of contractualization. He never cussed, never talked shit about other drivers. He owns the taxi. He used to work for a taxi company but he couldn't afford the boundary.

Crease, fold

In someone’s wallet is a receipt I try to smooth out against fastfood tables, a receipt that had the creases and folds of a man who, thirty years ago, did exactly that - if the shape were a projection if what was going on his mind, would tracing back the folds meant the willingness to understand?


Full-time Driver
by Marcus Jackson 
I took every hour they offered, delivering
lukewarm pizzas by means of an ’86
LeSabre, the back tires almost bald.
Managers rarely yelled or wore me out
about moving too slow. When we blundered
orders, most customers understood.
My brother worked there too. He was beautiful.
I should’ve kissed him, one good forehead kiss
while such a gesture might’ve mattered.
Women, shoeless in their doorways, gave me
resigned smiles as they paid. Undergraduate
smokers proposed hits of their burning herb.
The richest part was when business
would ebb, and I’d coast the summer streets.
The air felt like a cool fruit. The engine block
churned a sure tune. The rearview caught
moments of low moons. Time was a tame lake
my hand skimmed from the front of a canoe.

Rusty pipes as owls

‘A rust-stained pipe/Where a house once stood, which I/Take each time I pass it for an owl.’
— From Tracy K. Smith’s “The Angels,” a poem in the collection “Wade in the Water” (Graywolf Press, 2018, Page 7). Smith, who currently serves as the U.S. poet laureate, is the author of three previous collections and one memoir. 
How many fleeting associations combine to make up a life? How many rusty pipes do we mistake for owls? A vast majority of our waking hours are filled not with witty jokes or brilliant thoughts or epic feelings but with tiny, private mind-motions — thoughts that are hardly even thoughts at all, that don’t rise to the level of sharing with another human being. That millisecond when — again and again — a rusty pipe looks like an owl, or a newscaster’s voice reminds you of a long-gone uncle, or a daily routine sets off a small chain of involuntary associations. These things are almost nothing, and yet they are who we are. 
Every morning, when I screw the lid onto my steaming thermos of coffee, I think to myself, automatically, the phrase “heat capture.” I have no idea why. I’ve never used that phrase in any other context in my life. And yet I couldn’t stop it if I tried. After years of this, I finally mentioned it to my wife, who revealed a similar habit: Every night, when she shuts the bedroom blinds, she thinks to herself the ridiculous words, “Sleep Chamber: Complete.” She said she kind of hates it because it makes her feel as if she’s living in an episode of “Star Trek,” but she has no choice. 
When I put on deodorant in the morning, I involuntarily think the word “DEODOTANT.” This is because I once worked as a janitor, and that’s what somebody had written on a spray bottle that I was forced to look at every morning, half-asleep, at 4 a.m. Twenty years later, I carry that nonword around like a sacred incantation, a prayer I say to the rising sun each day: DEODOTANT. Our minds will catch anything and mount it like a prize. 
Every time I drink a glass of water, I get an image of my father drinking a glass of milk, looking at me with smiling eyes. These things will never be part of anyone’s biography. Unless we tell one another, they disappear.

- From New Sentences, one of my favorite columns at the New York Times.

Pep talk

I’ve always been approached by strangers - this time it was outside a convenience store. His first question was about the bus: "What time is the first bus?" He said he's been waiting for ages for a bus and couldn’t find any. It was 1AM, so I told him there are no buses at this time. His name is Lance. He reminds me of a friend, J: they have the same... awkward personality. Lance is really nervous and sweaty - he said he‘s in UPLB to meet a girl he’s known for a long time just to let out all his stress: "physically, emotionally, financially, etc." The trip from Manila to LB took him four hours. After what I imagine was a lengthy, diary-deep chat between him and the girl, he (kindly?) asked the girl if he could sleep over, but unfortunately he got turned down. So where are you planning to go? I asked. He said he has this family problem, so he’s not going home to San Pedro - he’ll go to his cousin in QC, and wait it out. He seemed troubled: after a disclaimer about his life choices, he said he’s in his fifth course already - he’s been shifting courses - and at 22 he’s going to get a diploma this June. Unfortunately, filmmaking is his passion - and everyone in his family seemed to belittle it. I told him you can’t have everything in life. I gave him a quick pep talk: I didn’t become a writer, okay, but marketing is fine, it pays the bills, it’s slightly creative, and at times it puts me in the shoes of someone else, which is similar to fiction writing. Then I mentioned a friend who had the same passion, got pregnant, decided to take some time off of college, but still persevered to finish at the UPOU. I told him about the film workshops out there that he can save for as soon as he gets his first job. He can apply for online courses. At this point I lost him - he was looking more worried, and he wasn’t listening anymore. I then led him to the jeepney stop and discussed his options: either he waits for the 3AM bus from Sta. Cruz or goes to the terminal in Calamba and, well, wait for the 3AM bus. He chose the latter; he said he'd better be going.

Quakes and quirks

At the wake of an earthquake I didn’t feel (I was on the road from a meeting, and have just stepped out of the cab when it happened) an officemate, T, and I had a really hard time booking a Grab. Our attempts were fruitless for three hours. We were tapping our phones from while eating dinner at Wendy's. Both of us were on our way back to the office, having decided to ditch the plan of attempting to go home in such dire circumstances, when a driver surprisingly accepted our booking. At the cab he talked about his last trip: Cubao to BGC for an hour and a half. He felt the earthquake while cooking in his flat in E. Rodriguez in Cubao - the three guitars hung in his wall are shaking. (He showed a photo on his smartphone.) Turned way down low, the music is the kind you hear in Need for Speed soundtracks: a lighter, Grab-friendly version of heavy metal. While driving on the side, he makes custom guitar pickups for a living. (“The guitar is the singer, and the pickups the microphone” - an allusion only people who fully understand the craft can say.) He talks about an older friend who drove for 15 hours to Bicol and still managed to surf the minute they hit the beach. I imagined his friend as having the same lanky built that my professor in college has. He laughed, amused at the accuracy. When I mentioned that I live in Los Baños, he said he's from Tanauan, he said. He’s asked his friend - a wünderkind who makes custom electric guitars as Elegee Custom Guitars - to make a guitar for his two year-old daughter. (“I couldn’t even strum my guitars anymore - she takes it away from me all the time.”) When he talked passionately about shawarma (“Try Uncle Mo’s”) and burgers (“my brother used to work for a burger chain in Tanauan called BXB” - and it has a branch in Los Baños) he eerily reminds me of a friend who vapes, M.


Last Sunday, over a venti Cold Brew - thanks to the cashier who just upsold me to buy a venti - I finally had the time and energy to go back and breeze through (and read) all the notes I have in my iOS app. I've published 9 out of 10 them here, since no one's reading this. Some notes are meant for my project (portraits of strangers reading books), while the rest are either quotes from articles I've read (notecards) or dream sequences that are just plain weird (oracular vernacular). Some notes even go way back - to our family trip to the US (this is America) some two years ago, while some are touching moments with my wife and kid (pork and vodka). This made me realize one thing: I really couldn't stop writing. I'll probably be posting more of them here - there still are some notes from 2016.

December 17, 2016

I arrived at 1:30 am from the tricycle, rainy, and untied my shoes while putting up with the familiar songs from my wife's playlist, all having the same chords, the same campy and happy tunes, the same awws and oohs and aahs. Then there's the irresistible smell of butter, the smear of batter at the table. The splash of flour on the floor. I knew this mess and tangle so well: she was in her element, she was having a good time while baking in cold, rainy weather. There's a grin on my face while I danced to her tunes.

One million dong

I have two special friends: one was B and there was another guy: my former orgmates F or L? I get to see them spend 1M dong on cocktails. I get to visit them in hospitals when both of them are sick. The two friends halfheartedly tell me to leave, as the visits are taking so much of my time. The mushy part was when both of them, immobilized by whatever sickness, would just lick my ears as a sign off before I go. I cry and cry. My wife was sitting beside me.


Someone reads a plastic-wrapped copy of The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. INNOVATION FOR EVERYBODY, one of the headers read at page 89, which he reads while reinserting his makeshift bookmark (a blue bus ticket bound for Muntinlupa, most probably from the night before). At my left is an old woman who felt a great need to pray the rosary: the beads sounded sturdy, like coins, as she extracts it from its plastic case.

Life becomes an afterlife

Sometimes we can get insights about death from dreams. My dream was that I'm with three people, and we're passing to each other some kind of drink or smoke that when finished our so-called lives will be "snuffed". Think of it as a timer and we are in a game. I couldn't remember who they are or how we have met - heck, I'm not even sure about how the dream started. I feel that we have developed some friendship, just with the way we passed the drink (or smoke) to each other. And isn't that lasting impression the most important thing? In a dream, life becomes an afterlife.


“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” Hemingway

The two sentences are from “Death in the Afternoon,” a nonfiction book (1932). They apply as readily to fiction. Hemingway sometimes called the concept the Theory of Omission. In 1958, in an “Art of Fiction” interview for The Paris Review, he said to George Plimpton, “Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg.” To illustrate, he said, “I’ve seen the marlin mate and know about that. So I leave that out. I’ve seen a school (or pod) of more than fifty sperm whales in that same stretch of water and once harpooned one nearly sixty feet in length and lost him. So I left that out. All the stories I know from the fishing village I leave out. But the knowledge is what makes the underwater part of the iceberg.”

- from Omission, by John McPhee via The New Yorker

On nonfiction

Dear Minami—Across my years as a writer and a writing teacher, I have been asked myriad questions about the reporting and compositional process but not before now this basic one of yours. And the answer comes forth without a moment’s contemplation: I know right away when I hear a quote I’ll want to include in the story. . . . In interviews, I scribble and scribble, gathering impressions, observations, information, and quotes, but not altogether mindlessly. Writing is selection. From the first word of the first sentence in an actual composition, the writer is choosing, selecting, and deciding (most importantly) what to leave out. In a broader, less efficient way, that is what goes on during the scribbling of interview notes. I jot down everything that strikes me as having any potentiality whatever to be useful in the future composition, and since I am learning on the job and don’t know what the piece will be like, I scoop up, say, ten times as much stuff as I’ll ultimately use. But when Fred Brown says “Come in. Come in. Come on the hell in,” I come in, sit down, and soon jot the line. I don’t have to be Nostradamus to sense that his form of greeting will be useful, any more than I could resist his remark about papering and his sinuses. Factual writing is also a kind of treasure hunt, and when the nuggets come along you know what they are. They often provide beginnings and endings, even titles. In interior Alaska, non-native people often describe one another in terms of when they “came into the country.” That phrase is repeated so much it is almost a litany, and I heard it so often that I had a title for “Coming Into the Country” long before any of it was written. That was lucky and rare, because titles are usually very hard to choose.

- from Omission, by John McPhee via The New Yorker 

New laugh

Fatherhood gave me a new laugh: the laugh of a dad who looked at his son's cheeks as it chews a chicken chunk, or a blob of bread.

John St.

On my nighttime walks the neighbors’ lives reveal themselves, the lit windows domestic aquariums. At times, I’m the silent witness to fights that look like slow-dancing without music. It is astonishing how people live, the messes they sustain, the delicious whiffs of cooking that carry to the street, the holiday decorations that slowly seep into daily décor.

The neighborhood goes dark as I walk, and a second neighborhood unrolls atop the daytime one. We have few street lights, and those I pass under make my shadow frolic; it lags behind me, gallops to my feet, gambols on ahead.


Birds chirping. Red birds called cardinals, blue jays, birds that look a lot like our maya. Three wild rabbits. Metallic green Tiger beetle. A huge park ranger dog. Jennifer: the Park Ranger.Mayapple. The occasional spider. A bird nest on top of an outdoor sconce. A little pink-and-yellow moth. More moths. A lone owl from a distance, with its calming ooh-wooh. The squawk of a crow. A squirrel climbing a tree.


There's the post-vacation syndrome: spraying copious amounts of disinfectant and anti-insect spray; replacing dusty bedhseets, curtains, throw pillows and hauling them all to the laundry shop; catching up on bills that couldn't be paid online. Then: calling the gardener, for the weeds have grown up to our legs; doing grocery lists to restock the fridge. (They already have the cans of mushrooms!) Since the kitchen sink was clogged and Liquid Sosa didn't work, what else would? A plunger, a wire? The week after this, I was lighting votive candles. I draped the living room with thick, dark curtains, and then I folded your clothes. I washed your backpacks in warm, soapy water in that metal basin you bought for that purpose. I tried to hang them all on the clothesline and stare as they fall, one by one.

Magic and metaphor

The great images – ghosts who grow old and die, the lover emanating yellow butterflies – are neither symbols nor metaphors, but simply designate the string itself, in its inexorable temporal progression and its stubborn repudiation of any distinction between the subjective and the objective, the inner feeling and the external world.

- from No Magic, No Metaphor, Frederic Jameson on 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'

A kid grows up

How do birds feel when they fly into the rain? I hug someone when death looms over my head, sheet-gray, ominous. Thick like syrup, choking the throat.

someone had just learned his vowels. I know bits about cavities, how to run ads on YouTube. He is certain about tomorrow.

The truths pile up: light is faster than sound; the heartbeat is the sound of the heart pumping blood. I am 20 years older.

In his head I imagine the truths as busy as bees, buzzing, each discovery laid on layers of bubble wrap.

In the dark I plant a kiss on the whorl on his hair, the fine truths brushing against my face.

Later, the moonlight shines through the curtain, illuminates the room. Alone years ago I would have lit a candle and grunt forever

(Parenthood taught me about my parents. They're just human, I thought.)

This time I cup my hand
and whisper in his ear about the exigencies of modern life, the pain in my wrists, and as a footnote: why junk food is bad for him.

I slink my arms around his frame, now taller than dining chairs, than garden shrubs, than the piles of books upstairs. 

Death at home

They say the last
of our senses that stays
well before you die
is hearing

So imagine darkness
and guess: walls away, the grating sound of rusting gates,
the slam of car doors, paper bags rustling at each step.

At the turn of the keys
you hear the sprint of a toddler approaching to whisper:
We're home.


There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in. 
- Leonard Cohen


When I specified that I wanted the boldest coffee beans in their roster to be ground for French press use, someone next in line made small talk. He looked as erudite as Washington SyCip. He asked: "What French press do you use?" I already felt it was a test, so I said I use Bodum at the office and Hario at my Dad's. The woman at the counter was beaming a smile - as if to suggest that she has heard this question from the man so often. He then said that the best french press he bought where he lives, in Bacolod. "It's a Pyrex. I couldn't find it here in Manila. A woman who also frequents this stall gave me money to buy three." Before it devolves as something along the lines of sales talk, I said: "Well, I've never heard of a Pyrex..."
"I've had five broken Bodums."
"I broke a Hario plunger before, but that's just me being clumsy!" That was when the woman behind the counter chimed in with a laugh.
"But I'll make sure to check out that brand, especially if I break another one."
"It's the glass. They make it really sturdy."
So there was silence, as I was fumbling for my wallet and making room for my just-purchased pack of ground coffee in my already stuffed duffel.
Then I said: "Do you come here often?" I've been meaning to ask this question as I have doubts on the stall's quality and provenance - it was right inside a South Supermarket branch in Alabang, next to the gym I go to on Sundays.
"I come here twice a day for nine years for the coffee. No french presses, no coffee makers can give me the bold coffee I've always wanted."
Intrigued, I asked: "What makes you come to this stall, anyway?"
"The espresso."
I paid my coffee and had second thoughts on whether to get an espresso and engage in a long conversation with the man, but I'm running on an empty stomach, so I bid farewell and thanked him for his suggestion.


P: Is it a great life when you take care of a kid?
K: It is, especially when the kid is a good kid.
P: I'm a good kid kaya - I read kaya!

Insure manure

Someone named Bing scheduled a 10AM appointment and arrived at 1130AM. I waited by the lobby. She talked me through an insurance plan included in our employee benefits. She was clutching meds in one palm, squeezing it or something. But at some point she was also nibbling some M&Ms, which I found strange. She has heavy-lidded eyes. Around 52. Her serious mien seemed like a put-on, as if she's that aunt who's quite unbecoming, a little kooky, and on the verge of cracking jokes to clients. At one part she asked my weight - I've been going to the gym lately but never thought of weighing myself. I gave her an estimate: 180 pounds? She looked sideways and said, no, you're much more lighter. Maybe 170? I said okay. She has a Coach bag. Her in-laws lived in Bay, at the town proper, near the old church. The last name: Santos. She wore Jo Malone's Sea Salt and Sage on our way downstairs. For all I know she's Joan Didion, with that grace and refinement in her actions. She asked me if Tektite was walking distance from our office. I said, yes, sure, and with gestures I gave her the landmarks. With the heat of the sun, it might take you some time to get there. What she said was something both succinct and pointed: "I don't bring umbrellas." Something in her tone is saying something. Maybe a broken marriage? A husband that died not too long ago?

16 February 2018, poem

When I kiss the top
of my son's head I think
of his future
without me.

Nighttime reading

One day, Reppy Sr. was asked by his wife to buy corn at the grocery. The grocery ran out of corn. Then, suddenly, a man appeared and gave him corn. Reppy Sr. said, Thank you! He went to his wife and gave her the corn she asked for - and his wife said, thank you! And he read a story to his son, Reppy Jr. The story goes: One day, a man goes to the supermarket to buy corn at the grocery. The grocery ran out of corn. Then, suddenly, a man appeared and gave him corn. The father said, Thank you! He went to his wife and gave her the corn she asked for - and his wife said, thank you.

Small talk to Somerset

Met a taxi driver named Roslan, 38, divorced from wife four years ago. He likes Nike and Puma. He said it's not about the brand - it's about the feeling when you wear it. He asked about my job: "How's your day?" I said I'm a digital marketer, and described it simply as doing all the stuff you see on social media. He was shocked that I am a foreigner. He dreams of buying a Stan Smith. I said it's a classic, but it doesn't suit me - "I think it's for thin guys." He also doesn't buy 'sneakerhead thinking' - "I just buy what I need," he said. I said I agree. He said he drives to meet new people - driving is a means, not an end. Meeting his friends can be tiring, so he rarely sees them. He said housing sucks in this city. He said you should accept the fact that you'll never get rich. When he mentioned that he's divorced I asked him: "How are you taking things? Are you ok?" He said he's fine now.

Time moves slow

Michele’s father worked as a technician at Alitalia, but his passions lay elsewhere: he sculpted and wrote, and he felt a close tie to nature. This was the legacy of Michele’s paternal grandmother, who served as a kind of wise woman to her community, in the city of L’Aquila. “My father was a shaman,” Michele told me. “He told me that time doesn’t exist. He didn’t use a clock. He didn’t know when my birthday was. He would say, ‘You were born in the autumn—it was a hot autumn, it was the beginning of the seventies.’ He told me that if you try to stop with the idea that time exists you will live forever. I said to him, ‘How can I do it? I need to make appointments.’ But he was always late for things, because he didn’t care about appointments. So I think he was quite ready for his appointment with death.” He died a decade ago. Michele recalls, “He said to me, ‘You and I are very lucky, because we spent a lot of beautiful seasons together, and they are so many that I can’t remember how many they are.’”

- from Gucci's Renaissance Man, via The New Yorker

11 June 2018, Morning

I was greeted by a flock of birds this morning - their songs and trills were so invasive it would wake you up. I’ve never heard anything like it... except that morning in a Virginia cabin last year, around 5 am as well. What made them choose a June morning? Was it because of the recent monsoon? Were they migratory birds?


When you drink and talk about git, the conversation tends to drift into strange territories. If only everything worked like this! Why are we still sending files around via email? Why aren’t there multiple branching versions of everything? Why do we pretend that there’s any canonical version of anything? (Because we have to make money.) Git acknowledges a long-held, shared, and hard-to-express truth, which is that the world is ever-shifting and nothing is ever finished.
- from GitHub Is Microsoft’s $7.5 Billion Undo Button, via Bloomberg

A Cook's Tour

Bourdain reads like your brother, your rad uncle, your impossibly cool dad—your realest, smartest friend, who wandered outside after beers at the local one night and ended up in front of some TV cameras and decided to stay there. In this book he sometimes ends a chapter with a footnote entitled Reasons Why You Don’t Want to Be on Television, which is his way of mocking himself - in his introduction, he’s explained his notion of being a sellout. These chapters - filled to the brim with self-loathing and snark against television’s love for the canned and the scripted - add a grit of reality in the façade of his impeccable food writing. What you read, then, is more than the traveling - which, to be honest, is devoid of challenges: it’s complete with crew, accommodation, and good food. What you read is Bourdain himself.

On that note, in the episode where he goes to Morocco that you can see how smooth (bump-less?) his travels are - he is welcomed by a Moroccan-born British-educated man in a suite that was owned by a prince in the 14th century. Sometimes it reeks of privilege, sometimes it sounds so inaccessible - but that doesn’t fault the book: his celebrity cred surely comes with these privileges.

But you can also read his disbelief, and in the open Saharan desert, laying on his back to see thousands of miles of desert and the horizon, he wonders how “a miserable, manic-depressive, overage, undeserving hustler like myself - a utility chef from New York City with no particular distinction to be found in his long and egregiously checkered career - on the strength of one inexplicably large score, could find himself here, seeing this, living the dream.”


"And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs
And as silently steal away."
- a verse from Longfellow, by way of Anthony Bourdain in A Cook's Tour


And I thought that the only reason why we die is to force us to make life more worthwhile.  
- Anthony Bourdain, perhaps from his book A Cook's Tour?


It's interesting how, when you peel a rambutan chilled in the fridge for three days, ants suddenly appear at the surface of the just-peeled flesh. They prop themselves up from the cold, and slowly rise from their contorted bodies, now alive again.

On finished novels

The novel often gives us that formal insight into the shape of someone’s life: we can see the beginning and the end of many fictional lives; their developments and errors; stasis and drift. Fiction does this in many ways—by sheer scope and size (the long, peopled novel, full of many lives, many beginnings and endings) but also by compression and brevity (the novella that radically compacts a single life, from start to finish, as in “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” or Denis Johnson’s “Train Dreams”). And partly by turning the present into the past: although we move forward through a story, the entire story is already complete—we hold it in our hands. In this sense, fiction, the great life-giver, also kills, not just because people often die in novels and stories but, more important, because, even if they don’t die, they have already happened. Fictional form is always a kind of death, in the way that Blanchot described actual life. “Was. We say he is, then suddenly he was, this terrible was.” 
- from Why? by James Wood, from The New Yorker


Someone is reading The March of Death, a poem by Bienvenido Santos, on a tablet. The next was a short story is entitled A Scent of Apples, of the same author. The guy is reading an anthology, probably for school, as he’s wearing a school uniform. He is wearing headphones that says "Like". 

Homage from theft

“There is no new thing under the sun.” Stealing is better than imitating, as T.S. Eliot once wrote (and as numerous writers on the subject of plagiarism have quoted him). But intent and execution matter, he went on: “Bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”
In Literature, Who Decides When Homage Becomes Theft? from The New York Times


In the span of a month I watched with horror the catastrophes in my dreams: in one, we resided in a coliseum-like building that would be the scene of an earthquake and tornado; the other, where I had to rescue my sister and her family from floods, an ensuing tsunami and a volcanic eruption. I’m not sure what this means.


It's that feeling I have when playing a game I thought isn't that perfect, like I could make a really minor adjustment at the start that would magically change how the gameplay goes, so I'd quit and start anew. Except now I can't really quit and start over.

Tourists from travelers

For Bowles, “tourists,” aided by the proliferation of air travel, were destroying the parts of the world they passed over. In contrast, “travelers” have no definite home and engage more deeply in the culture around them. Choukri writes that if this were the case, the “true traveler disappeared in the twenties and thirties.”
Pride and Prejudice in Tangier, from Lapham's Quarterly

My mind in Listeria

Last week, a Wisconsin-based company, Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales, recalled 147,276 pounds of ground turkey. 

 Where do you put that much food?

Istvan, 31 October 2018

Istvan Getting
inside everything

I was never gone, only
hid under a sea of clouds
drawn with his favorite crayon color.

I was never gone, only
trapped in a maze he made from scratch
to lull himself to sleep.

I was never gone, only
stirred in a pitcher of orange
juice on a sunny day after school.

I was never gone, only
whisked for breakfast, folded under blankets
like butter in eggs.

I was never gone, only
built within layers of stories where an animated bear moved out of his house for
three days to accommodate pest controllers.

I was never gone, only
went for a stroll with the bear who wrote
about a child who forgot to turn off the TV inside her mommy’s tummy.

I was never gone, only
shoved inside screens to signify mirth
or say sorry, the battery is low.


It was Oct 2017 when I messaged Fully Booked about a wonderful short story collection, Yesterday’s Weather, by Anne Enright. I happened to read it again now, in a cramped jeepney ride en route home from San Pablo. The story had the most wonderful title, only that The Paris Review’s paywall, it seems, chose to reveal the story one paragraph a year.


Dreamt of two little penguins that I try to separate but are inseparable. My son repeatedly sang the national anthem the entire day. He also asked, for the first time: “What does ‘chill’ mean?” Shiela and the Insects didn’t strike him as Filipino: “Why are they singing in English?” Yet he said he likes English songs.

A new monitor

All I can remember: I won 600,000 pesos from the lottery. Whispered to my wife that I'll buy her a new monitor. Then a scene outside some warehouse in Indonesia, of all places: volcanic activity unfolding, from ash formations like stalactites to dramatic hurling of hot stones, like rocks fired from catapults... then later, the slow crackling of lava.

Strange fur

I dreamt of our family owning tons of cats.


Rick Riordan book entitled Hidden Oracle. Bookmark is an unsent postcard. Starts on Chapter 29. Loose white cotton shirt. Immaculate white sneakers. Hair treated blonde on the edges. Green tasselled wristband on right wrist. Book is neatly covered in plastic. Blue skirt. College student, from the looks of it. 7 PM at EDSA LRT station.

Cua lo ping

Ate cua lo ping for the first time, with a Cebuano blogger friend, J. and her boyfriend at the back of a market in Iloilo. It’s pork ham in bread slices with gravy. Very meaty. Went with a former officemate D. to her new office at Panasonic, which is completely underwater: it's made out of glass spheres, with an undersea mess hall of some sort. Her job is all about experiments and are "highly collaborative". Sadly visitors must manually climb a ladder wrapped in chicken coop, which I find odd. Then I had to fly back to Manila with a fanfare of national calamaities rendered in Photoshop - so a volcano eruption, a comet about to crash, etc. Then a man with eyelids inside out and a crazy cat tried to attack me on my way home.

Wizards and demons

My dream is weird: I’m in a game where players are wizards or demons, good or bad. Wizards tend to let themselves be injured by demons: they get clawed, scalded, roasted in an open fire pit, choked, etc. They had to endure all these to be able to kill the boss - the Diablo of all demons.


I went to the Gendarmenmarkt, which in my dream is in Austria, and it's a mix of police station, artisanal market and gallery. Fantastic interiors. Bathrooms were either shabby, complete with pro-Nazi vandals; eclectic - I took one using this iPhone of a really wide urinal - like the toy I had as a kid for swirling marbles; or modern, as in made of black marble.

Taxi ride from 7 February

The taxi driver told me - as the car inched its way near Privato Hotel - that he sold everything he could: the fishpens he had in Laguna Bay, his guns, his old Lancer. The family easily spent five million pesos for his son's treatment at St. Luke's. His son, a civil engineer, had leukemia: the treatment worked the first time, but it came back stronger only after a month. His son’s favorite dish was Crispy Pata, and every time the taxi drive visits his son and his family in Lipa for a weekend he would buy two plates of it, yet he wished he bought more, had he known.


A while ago I was imagining a scene where an old Korean mother just got home from an intense rain, her umbrella dripping wet, and you could feel - as she quickly sets aside her shoes for her house slippers - you could feel the cold that freezes the bone. As soon as she arrives, she was greeted with the steam of warm soup from the kitchen, cooked by someone in the house, maybe a daughter, calling her to join her at the dining table. The final scene is a close-up of how she calmly slurps soup from the bowl, her face a study of contentment, her cheeks flushed, radiating warmth.


When I was high on weed I used to strain to hear the conversation at the second half of Javelin's Sound of Charcoal Burning, an instrumental track where you can hear sounds (and voices?) drowned by - you got it! - the sound of charcoal burning. The track sounds like there's a picnic going on, with the distant sound of ball tossed or kicked from point A to point B, and a recorder left to document the aura of a summer day.


On the first day of his art class my son was struck when the tutor gave him a wide sheet of paper, a page from a sketch pad that he would use in the next sessions. It’s almost half of our dining table at home. Marveling at the space, he told his teacher: “It’s too big!” At the jeepney ride to Grove, he thought out loud that people might think it's weird of him to have a sketch pad that big. I told him he shouldn't care about what other people might think.

End of life care

A stray cat decided that our patio - specifically that cool, dry place under the rickety sofa frame we inherited a few years back from my mom-in-law's interior design projects - is the best place to die. The incident felt like I was inside a Murakami short story, where cats mysteriously appear - as if on cue - right when some sort of existential crises loom in one of the characters. We found the cat - a male - lying on its side with blood and froth in the mouth. He has a decent ginger coat, a gash on the torso, and both eyes with some sort of dark circles around it. The cat barely moved: it was at the same spot the entire time my son and I left for his first ever art class. If it weren't for the shallow breathing I would have prodded the cat with a stick.

My wife, convinced that it was rabies in its advanced stages, forbade us - and our house cat, Tomic - from going near the patio. This limited our movements: I couldn't do my weekend laundry without getting near the supposedly infected cat. This also meant one thing: we had to wait for it to die. My son theorized that the cat must have had a brawl with a dog, since he said he heard noises that morning from one of the neighbors. Having read about the recent Ebola outbreaks in Congo and the measles and meningococcemia outbreaks in Manila, I couldn’t fear less. My wife did some further reading about dying cats and found out that the creatures have a habit of leaving their owners to choose their burial sites - implying that the cats are sentient enough to actually choose the place where they are going to spend their final hours. My mind couldn't process this: I only wanted to get rid of the cat, treating it as another form of clutter, another manifestation - if Murakami was right - of the storm brewing inside my head. Still groggy from an inuman we hosted at the very patio where the stray cat slowly crept towards the sofa to die in peace, I spent my Saturday morning frequently peering from the patio door, thinking of buying shovels, or conjuring a scene in my mind: a scene where I put the corpse inside a sack and hurl it across an empty field.