List of Dreams

I need a little cheering up today, so I thought I’d update my list of dreams and desires. The last time I did this was seven years ago, when I was just starting this blog. Today, I feel the need to remind myself to hope. So here goes:

  • Learn to bake. I feel like it’s one of those things that indulges all the senses. With all the scents and textures and colors, the process itself seems like a feast for the senses even before the first bite of the finished cake.
  • Plant my dream garden. This is a crystal-clear vision that I’ve had all my life. Even in my grade school journals, there are pages and pages of drawings about how I want it to look. There will be big, shady trees with mossy trunks, wooden benches with ferns growing underneath, and lots of flowers that fill the air with scent. I want it to be lush, unruly, and magical.
  • Write a book about Cuyonon folktales and legends, before they’re forgotten. That means I need to become fluent in the language first so that I could talk with the island’s lolos and lolas who still remember the old stories. I also want to do the same for Pala’wan folklore.
  • Explore the Philippines. First on the list: Batanes in the far north. I’ve come to imagine it as my country’s own version of the Shire. After the Philippines, I want to see the rest of the world. There’s so much curiosity inside me.
  • Live in a bahay kubo-inspired house, with a stained glass window. I know those two architectural aesthetics don’t really go together, but the house should fit in naturally with the garden, and I have daydreams of lying on a couch with a book while the late afternoon sun throws patterns of colored light on the floor through the window.
  • Become a photographer. A really good one.  It’s a way to make fleeting moments of beauty last a little longer. It’s a way of remembering not to take them for granted.
  • Make writing my main job. This is actually terrifying. I don’t know if I’m good enough, or if I’ll earn enough, or get enough people to read me. There are so many risks, and I have so much yet to learn. Still, I can’t think of anything more satisfying than making a living by following my passion.
  • Start a library for kids. I want to fill it with books that made me fall in love with reading when I was a child. So many Filipino children never learn how wonderful books can be simply because they don’t have access to any, except for their textbooks (some public schools in impoverished areas don’t even have that). It’s heartbreaking. I don’t have money, connections, or expertise for such a big project, just a lot of desire. So much that I actually already have a list of titles I want to put on the shelves.
  • Build a tree house. I want one where I can spread a mat on the floor and listen to wind chimes, watch the sky changing colors with the sunset, and bask in the fragrance of orchids on the tree branches.

In making this list, I’m getting a clearer picture of my desires. I want a creative, risky life.  I want adventure, quiet moments, and an abundance of beauty around me. The world of nine-to-five jobs offers more security, but the more I try to make myself fit into it, the more I feel trapped and frustrated and inadequate. I don’t know how to do this. The life I planned for since I was in high school, the life my loved ones would be reassured to see me living, feels strange on my skin. It’s someone else’s life, and I keep failing in it. But I still don’t know if I’m ready to give up trying.

One of my “practice shots” which I took with a point-and-shoot mini digital camera. It was so much fun. Can’t wait to try this with a real one.

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The Filipino as Frodo (or why you shouldn’t shut up about Sotto)

This past month, I watched in disbelief as the most important political debate of my generation devolved into a circus starring Senator Tito Sotto III as the clown. While proponents of the Reproductive Health Bill* struggled to move the deliberations forward, Tito Sen declared himself champion of the opposing camp and planted his feet firmly in the way.

Fair enough. But then he opened his mouth during his first turno en contra speech, and it all fell apart. The nation tuned in, expecting well-reasoned arguments, only to hear plagiarized ideas, outdated research, and manufactured drama. It all went downhill from there (here’s a timeline and another one if you just woke up from a coma and missed it), with the last turno en kopya disaster turning out to have a conclusion directly translated from a Robert F. Kennedy speech.

In the public smackdown that followed, I noticed something rather unusual. The Senate was silent. The people were in uproar, but there was no backlash from the other members of the institution that Sotto’s antics were debasing in front of the entire world. Juan Ponce Enrile, whose legacy as senate president is at stake, practically gave Sotto a hug for being so misunderstood. Even the volatile Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who is as much an academic as she is a public servant, was uncharacteristically tolerant. Really, senators? You don’t care about the blatant lying and stealing within your ranks at all?

You know what this reminds me of? The fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings**. Remember how Frodo had to take the One Ring to Mordor when the great powers of Middle Earth refused to even touch it? They feared the temptation of the ring, so it fell to a simple little hobbit to vanquish the darkest evil in the land. “Even the smallest person,” the Elf-queen Galadriel told him, “can change the course of the future.”

Now I don’t know if our leaders’ failure to denounce Sotto’s lack of integrity can be compared to the noble rejection of the ring’s power, but Rappler’s Carla Montemayor offered some conjectures. No matter what the reason, their hands-off response to Sotto’s shenanigans has allowed his corruption free rein in the Senate. And now it falls to ordinary Filipinos and whatever tools we can muster to call him out. It’s up to us.

So we  write, and write, and write. We pour out our indignation, our anger at being treated like simpletons by a senator who owes his power to us.

We combat the misinformation, manipulations, and outright lies that Sotto and his ilk spout on a regular basis. Refusing to be fooled, we link to reputable studies, point out logical fallacies, and hover over our keyboards ready to google fu the heck out of the hype.

We rally behind two of us, writer Miguel Syjuco and teacher Leloy Claudio, who challenged one of the highest officials in the land to a debate about his so-called evidence against the bill. (Sotto refused them, of course, because God forbid he should ever exert actual intellectual effort.)

We fire off tweets and memes and Facebook posts, today’s equivalent of placards and people power chants. We laugh and mock and rage at Sotto, but underneath it all, we just want an apology. We just want to believe that there’s decency and integrity in our sworn leaders. (SPOILER ALERT: Not gonna happen, guys.)

We start petitions to penalize or oust Sotto which, let’s be realistic, would probably only be ignored by old school politicians who wouldn’t comprehend that behind these digital signatures are flesh-and-blood Filipinos desperate for change. But we sign them anyway, because we want our names to be included in the lists of those who care enough to try.

In the end, that’s the real reason we  even have a fighting chance. Not because we have political clout, religious influence, or crowds of reporters hanging on to our every word.  Our power rests on the simple fact that we give a damn. Apathy is so much easier. After all, haven’t we learned after decades of corruption that cheating is inevitable? Yet we refuse to accept that. We refuse to just shrug it off. And it’s making a difference.

Every time we make the decision to care, we claim our place as agents of change. We become the Ako ang Simula generation, defined not by age but by the refusal to entrust our future on the whims of a handful of men who have their own selfish agendas. We practice democracy as it’s meant to be. It may not change the world now, but it’s certainly changing us by making us think about what we can and should do for our country.

We may still lose this battle, mind you. Sotto, after all, survived the exposure of his link to a drug lord as he pretended to spearhead the fight against drugs. But the fact that we are still fighting means something. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who knows how it feels to be helpless in the face of evil, says, “There may be times when we are powerless to fight injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

If we do as he says, if we keep protesting with our words, actions, and votes, we may yet prove Galadriel right. Ordinary Filipinos, the ones you can find not in seats of power but in internet cafes, classrooms, or street corner tambayans, may yet change the course of our country’s future. I for one am willing to try.

NOTES:

*For the record, I am pro-RH bill. I believe it is pro-poor, pro-life, and pro-development. However, even if I were on the other side of the fence, I still wouldn’t want someone who has earned the nickname The National Embarrassment speaking for me.

**In fairness, it doesn’t take much to get me thinking of the LOTR. My brain practically lives in Middle Earth.

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Songs About Waiting for Love

You might have a very clear picture of who you want that special person to be. Or you may have no idea what to expect and are just waiting to be surprised. Either way, waiting for love involves a kaleidoscope of emotions: longing, frustration, anticipation, faith, excitement, loneliness, hope, even despair. So while you’re wishing and wondering, here’s a playlist of songs for the waiting heart.

1. Someone’s Waiting For You – Sammy Fain

This song from the Disney classic The Rescuers was sung for a little girl who was beginning to lose faith. I think the simple sweetness and innocence of it is the perfect balm for those moments of flagging hope, even for grown ups.

2. I Promise – Jaci Velasquez

This song is more than just a promise to wait for the right person, it’s also an expression of faith that he will come in the perfect time.

3. Wait for Me – Rebecca St. James

While waiting for that special someone, there’s a danger of overly idealizing him or her until there’s no room for flaws. I love the part where she sings “Now I know you may have made mistakes, but there’s forgiveness and a second chance.”

4. Waiting – Matt Wertz

He’s just trying to figure out this growing up thing, and he thinks having someone to stand by his side will help. Isn’t that something we’ve all felt at one time or another?

5. Counting to 100 – Matt Wertz

Another one from Matt Wertz, where he sings of waiting as a game of hide-and-seek. So he’ll count to 100, and maybe when he starts seeking he’ll find her. It’s impossible for me to listen to this without singing along.

6.  Between Us – Peter Bradley Adams

He starts by asking, “Hey stranger, when may I call you my own?” and promises that he’s willing to disregard everything and everyone that has come  between them. The song echoes with loneliness as he tells the unknown someone that he’ll cross any distance to get to her.

7. Love is Waiting – Brooke Fraser

I love Brooke Fraser’s lyrics. This song is about savoring the wait, slowing the pace, as they make sure they’re ready for each other. “I could write a million songs about the way you say my name, I could live a lifetime with you and then do it all again. And like I can’t force the sun to rise or hasten summer’s start, neither should I rush my way into your heart.” Yeah.

8. Haven’t Met You Yet – Michael Bublé 

I smile every time I hear this; it’s just so darn sweet and hopeful and cute! He knows he has a lot of love to give, and he’s not giving up until he meets the right person to receive it. With lyrics like “I guess it’s half timing, and the other half’s luck. Wherever you are, whenever it’s right, you’ll come out of nowhere and into my life,” this seems like the perfect song to end this list. (BONUS CUTENESS: He’s now married to the girl in the video. I dare you to watch it and not melt.)

So what songs in your playlist are about waiting? Comments and recommendations welcome!

NOTE: Kate Bradshaw’s Someday also belongs in this list, but I can’t find a video of it anywhere. Judging by the comments on the lyrics post, it’s rather elusive.

A snapshot in time

It was supposed to be a simple hello. Late afternoon, he was standing on the field of the Sunken Garden in UP Diliman, tall and dark and strong. I called his name, and he turned to me, giving that little half-smile that older guys seem to do so well. Not that he was that much older, though sometimes it felt like more than five years stood between us. Among our group of college friends from our hometown, he was the kuya and I, being a naïve freshman newly arrived in the city, was treated like everyone’s little sister.

But that afternoon, none of the others were there, and he stood alone under the windy sky. I walked towards him, meaning to give a warm hello, chat a little, maybe ask if our other friends were going to show up. But something changed as I came closer. The wind playing with my dress and tossing my hair as I walked, the afternoon light falling on his shoulders as he waited for me to approach, even the smell of newly mown grass made every step seem breathtaking. Significant.

He stretched out his arm, and I put my hand in his when I was near enough. He pulled me closer, slowly, and I lifted my face up to touch my cheek to his. It was just a friendly gesture, nothing more, a customary hello that I’d given to countless others.  But there was…something. A thrill, a current. Like for a moment we had stepped into a story, where we were different people in a different time.

Then we said hello, and the spell broke. Our friends came, we played frisbee, normality returned. In a movie, perhaps it would’ve been the start of a lovestory, with a soundtrack by Jason Mraz. But this was real life. We settled back into our roles, though sometimes I would look at him and wonder if that moment really happened. If he felt it, too, if he remembered. Because that memory stayed with me, and whenever his name pops up in my newsfeed, I remember him not as an old college friend, but as a man standing tall under the windswept sky, reaching out his hand to a girl.

As time went by, I realized that it wasn’t really about him, or me, or the two of us together. That memory had power because it reminded me that there are stories beneath our ordinary lives—possibilities—and now and then we’ll get a glimpse, but we still have to choose which ones we want to live. I had a glimpse of something and chose to leave it behind, but I don’t think it’s either happy or sad. It just is.

This post was a response the “face to face” Red Writing Hood prompt from Write on Edge.

To my future husband, about a secret longing

By the time you read this knowing it’s for you, you already have my heart, along with the promise that it is yours to keep for the rest of our lives. Now there’s something I need to tell you, a seldom-spoken truth about the heart I gave that hopefully won’t change your mind.

I need you to pursue me.

There. Writing it, I sort of cringe in front of my computer. I try to find words that are less needy, less emotional, less vulnerable. It sounds so…unfeminist. But as much as I believe in a woman’s worth apart from a man’s opinion, there it is, the bare, unvarnished truth of my heart: I need you not just to love me, but to long for me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not merely being longed for that I crave. There have been other pursuits in the past, other promises that I haven’t accepted because I was waiting for you to show up. But when you came…I stopped running. It’s  kind of ironic that the man I cannot turn away from is the one whose pursuit I most desire.

May I tell you something else? Sometimes, I don’t really believe I deserve it. On the darkest days, I wonder if you can ever look at me and see someone you would seek to the ends of the earth, someone worth fighting for, someone captivating and absolutely irreplaceable. And I’m very much afraid that if the answer is no,  or a devastatingly careless shrug, my love for you and my self-doubt would conspire to make me accept it. I would make excuses on your behalf, clinging to the assurance you gave while you were still trying to win me, convincing myself that it’s enough. I would dismiss my need as overly romantic and unreasonable, all the while quietly wondering if you’re only staying because I ask so little of you. And day by day, my heart would gradually shrink, drying up and shriveling on the part that your yearning used to fill.

So please. When we are spending our lives together, never stop wanting me.

Miss me when I’m gone. Really miss me.

Listen when I talk, even if it doesn’t seem important to you, even when it’s hard to understand. That’s how I’ll know you’re still discovering me, that you’re still interested, and not indifferent.

Don’t let me be the only one who asks for quality time. Your time, those moments when we can just delight in each other, is the “I love you” I most understand.

Kiss me like you mean it. Let’s promise never to let ourselves get out of practice.

I want our bed to eventually sag in the middle, because that’s where we always end up, instinctively drawing close even in our sleep. There’s nothing sadder in a marriage, I think, than a bed where the occupants never cross the boundary between his side and hers.

Whatever you do, just tell me. Tell me in a way that feels more than just a habit. Tell me with your voice and your eyes and your hands.  Tell me with the way you seek my gaze across a crowd. Tell me with the way you touch me when we wake up. Tell me you want me, desire me, that you would choose me again if we both lived twice.

Because there’s one last thing I want to confess, my darling: that’s exactly how I feel about you. You see, I’ve been longing for you all my life. Even before we met, even when my faith wavered that you would come, I’ve been longing for you. And the truth is, love, I simply don’t know how to stop.

*****

Just like last weekInspiration Monday has again given me exactly the push I needed to get out what I wanted to write. This week, the prompts I heeded were “you only live twice” and “single but taken”.  Thanks, InMon!

An open letter to Atty. Hector Villacorta, from a humble blogger

Sir, if I might have a word with you.

Before Sen. Tito Sotto’s plagiarism extravaganza this week, I had no idea who you are. You moved in powerful circles in the nation’s capital while I quietly scribbled my thoughts in my little corner of the Internet. Alas, those happy days are gone. Now you’re everywhere I turn in the Philippine blogosphere, littering our space with your arrogant delusions. I’m tired of this. There’s an important debate going on regarding a bill that will drastically affect our country’s future, and you and your big mouth are sidetracking us.

I never thought that an unpaid blogger might have something to teach a senator’s chief of staff, but someone needs to stop you from making a bigger fool of yourself and your boss. Nobody in your office seems willing to do it, so I will. Listen up.

This all started when parts of an anti-Reproductive Health Bill speech made by Sen. Sotto were revealed to be lifted from an article by Sarah Pope, an American health blogger. He denied it, implying that bloggers are too insignificant to steal from, but everyone with a working bullshit detector just laughed in his face. When Sarah heard that a senator from halfway around the world not only stole her intellectual property but also, in her own words, “twisted the message of my blog to suit his own purposes against the women of the Philippines,” she felt the need to respond. (As an aside, see what I did there, when I attributed the words to the source? That’s a quote, Attorney. We’ll get back to that later.)

Now here’s where you come in. You stormed into Sarah’s comment section, dripping false humility and weary condescension, and proceeded to offer an ill-advised pseudo-apology that triggered a chorus of facepalms across the nation. Since then, more blatant plagiarism by Sotto has been uncovered, and you’ve spouted off more of your special brand of idiocy. Frankly, it’s embarrassing. It’s time for you to learn what you’ve been chattering about.

Let’s see. There’s a wealth of misinformation from you in this article from ABS-CBNnews.com. Let’s try to deal with that, shall we?

YOUR WORDS:

  • “Blog site is public domain.”
  • “Blogs are public domain. Anybody can use it [sic].”
  • “Bloggers, beware what you put out on the web. You should not cry if used by the web.”

THE FACTS:

No, Attorney,  a blog isn’t automatically in the public domain.  If an intellectual property doesn’t qualify for a copyright, or if its copyright has already expired, only then is it part of the public domain. Since blogs qualify for automatic copyright protection, and since that protection takes a long time to expire, the information that you and your staff copied for the senator was not, in fact, in the public domain.

You can’t evade  this. The Philippines signed several international copyright agreements, including one specifically designed to protect intellectual property online. We also have our own Intellectual Property Code. You asked where the laws are that would prove the crime of plagiarism was committed. Here they are, Attorney. And yes, just because these laws exist doesn’t guarantee implementation, but it’s kind of disturbing when a lawyer and a senator are either ignorant about them or actively defying them.

YOUR WORDS:

  •  “Nagtatampo pala sila pag naqu-quote sila.” (Trans: Their sensitivities get hurt when they are quoted.)

 THE FACTS: 

That was not quoting, Attorney, that was stealing. To quote means to properly acknowledge the source. You know, like I did with Sarah’s words up there and your own ridiculous sound bites. In blogging we do it by linking to whatever website we used as source.  In speech, you have to actually mention the origin out loud. In academic research and scientific literature, there’s a formal system that gives every first-time college thesis writer nightmares. I assume you are familiar with the last one, because you must be using scientific research for Sen. Sotto’s anti-RH Bill arguments, right? Right?

The point is, attribution is important. Without it, you are letting people believe that the words are your own, essentially claiming credit for them. In short, plagiarizing.

YOUR WORDS:

  • “Government is exempted from the copyright rule. As a general principle,  you cannot withhold information from government.”

 THE FACTS

I hesitate to venture into this territory because you’re a lawyer and I’m not. But the Philippine Constitution can be read by anyone, and maybe you just need a friendly reminder.

As far as I know, we are not yet a Big Brother society, though we do have a Big Brother television show. Here in the Philippines, we still believe that privacy is a right. Sections 2 and 3 of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights assure me that even the President himself can’t force me to let him read my high school diary and use it for his own purposes without a court order. Of course, if it were a matter of national security, I’ll let him read even the unsent love letter to my old crush, but only if he promises not to post it on Facebook.

As for the claim that working for the government exempts you from obeying the law, we only have to look at the cases of those Supreme Court justices charged with plagiarism to know that that’s just another one of your little daydreams. If you mean parliamentary immunity, sure, but it doesn’t make Sotto less of a lying thief. It just makes him a cowardly lying thief.

I’m sure I missed a few other things, but I’m tired. Obviously one of your staff knows how to use google, so next time, please just ask him to do some research before you use any big words in your interviews.

Or there’s also the possibility of Sen. Sotto just saying he’s sorry. Then this will all eventually blow over and we could go back to concentrating on the RH Bill. Just two words, Attorney. How hard can it be?

Sincerely,

A blogger

UPDATE: Here is a neat timeline of all the events in the Sotto Plagiarism Extravaganza from the site that first broke the story. WARNING: May trigger a reflexive facepalm so hard it might break your nose.

GET INVOLVED: There’s an online petition for the Senate’s Committee on Ethics and Privilege to sanction Senator Vicente Sotto III for his misdeeds.  Why should you care? As the novelist Miguel Syjuco writes so eloquently, “If the senator can’t accept responsibility for something as paltry as plagiarism, where the penalty’s hardly more than a public apology, will he take responsibility in future issues where penalties are more grave? If the senator can’t address our grievances fairly when they’re so small, will he face future grievances that are more costly? “

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Five books that punch you in the heart

Some books should come with a warning:

Booking Through Thursday asked the question:  What was the most emotional read you have ever had?  To answer that, here are five books I’ve read through the years for which I had no warning that I was about to be sucker punched in the limbic system.

1. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

The protagonists in this epic, evocative fantasy trilogy set in a richly textured alternate universe are mostly children, but it doesn’t stop Pullman from throwing the book of emotional trauma at them. So if he didn’t have mercy on his characters, why should he spare you, oh hapless reader? He makes you care about young Lyra Belacqua and her friends so much that when they  get into trouble, you can’t help gnawing your nails until it’s over. When they win, you’re right there with them throwing fist pumps in the air. And when they grieve, holy mother of many worlds, there is nowhere you can hide from the tears. I moped around for days after it ended. Then picked the first book up again to go through all of it once more.

2. The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien

There’s an irrepressible part of me which, even if I already know that a story has no happy ending, still insists on holding on to hope until the very last moment. For example, every time I watched any performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, I would hold my breath at the climactic scene, crossing my fingers that maybe, just maybe—this time Juliet will wake up before Romeo kills himself. And I don’t even like those two infatuated idiots that much.

When I started The Children of Hurin, I already had a pretty good idea what would happen. I’ve read The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales, so I thought I was prepared for the inevitable tragedy of it all. Wrong. It still broke my heart, dammit. It may not be fair to say that I wasn’t warned, but just because you know the train you’re on is going to crash doesn’t make the moment of impact hurt any less. And Tolkien got me on that train. He got me on that train real good.

3. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

I’ve already written twice about my favorite GGK novel Tigana (here and here), so I’m taking this chance to appreciate another brilliant work, The Lions of Al-Rassan.  Set in an alternate history version of medieval Spain, it is a deeply moving story of passion, faith, and valor in the midst of change and conflict. Like always, Kay’s characters are complex human beings you would be willing to follow into any adventure and fight beside in any war. Also, like always, Kay knows how to make you fall in love, he knows how to break your heart, and he knows how to make you feel it was all worth it afterwards. He’s a really good writer, is what I’m saying.

4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

When a book’s title has the word “miserable” in it, there’s no way it’s going to be a laugh fest, right? Right, I knew that. But I was surprised anyway by how emotionally devastated I was by the (sometimes hopeless) struggle for love and redemption by the downtrodden in post-revolutionary France. I read this while growing up in a small town without a theater to speak of, so I hadn’t seen the world-famous play yet and had to find out what happened next by turning the page. What an unforgettable journey. The musty pages of that old book I found tucked high up in my mother’s bookshelf still have tear stains on them, and my mother still remembers how I wouldn’t shut up talking about it to anyone who would listen.

5. State of War by Ninotchka Rosca

This one is heartbreaking not just because it’s really good fiction, but because so much of it is true. It follows ordinary human beings throughout a dreamy, panoramic allegory of Philippine history and thus takes the story of the Filipino people out of the dry pages of textbooks and weaves it into living, breathing myth. I didn’t know I could grieve so much for what had been lost when I hadn’t even lived when it existed, but State of War brought home for me the damage inflicted on the Filipino psyche by centuries of carnage and subjugation. The novel got me thinking more carefully about who I was as a Filipino, all the while deeply aware of the irony that those thoughts were running through my mind in English. In the end that contrast somewhat describes my cultural identity: confused, fragmented, seeking, and still in the process of defining itself.

When I finished writing this list, I realized that all five of these books are set either in fantasy worlds or somewhere far in the past. Other honorable mentions are Atonement by Ian McEwan and Night by Elie Wiesel (holy buckets of terror, was I traumatized after reading the latter—which is as should be, as the Holocaust should never be taken lightly).

I do get affected by stories in set the here-and-now (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, anyone?), but the ones on this list refuse to be dethroned from their place as soakers of the most number of handkerchiefs. I’ll be making my way around the other posts to discover reading suggestions for when I’m feeling brave again. Or severely masochistic. You know, whichever comes first.