The Writer’s Conceit

January 31, 2009

Dr. Cruz mentioned earlier that, for a writer to be able to produce something, he or she would have to be totally convinced that…  he or she writes better than everyone else.  It is the conceit that writers have to live with, else they wouldn’t be authors, but simply readers.

It’s something to think about, certainly.


The Economics of Words

January 30, 2009

So, after days of dithering on the matter, I’ve decided to go with Ambeth Ocampo as the writer I’ll send a letter to Ambeth Ocampo.  I haven’t written a sem-formal letter for a long time though, so I’m not sure how it will turn out, and given my bad habit of condensing things to a bare minimum, I’m not really sure how I could fill out the minimum 2 pages Dr. Cruz is requiring us to submit, but I’m going to strive to do so anyway.

To the Esteemed Mr. Ocampo,

My name is Dirk Lowell Escalada, a student at De La Salle University taking a Post-Graduate course in Creative Writing.  Although I am no historian, I am an avid reader of your column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and actually own two of your books, Rizal Without the Overcoat and Mabini’s Ghost.  I will readily admit though that the impetus for their purchases, all those years ago, was due to the fact that they were required readings in my Araling Panlipunan subject.  Since then, though, I have found them joys to read on their own merit, as they take the gloss off the historical personages we so often read of school books, takes them off their lofty pedestals, and reminds us that they were people too, and all-too human.  The books also make history more, hmm, personal?  Definitely more digestible and accessible, especially for a layman like myself.

Anyway, the initial intent for this letter is that it is supposed to be a requirement for Dr. (Isagani) Cruz’s class.  Simply put, write an author, maybe comment on their work a bit, maybe give some critiques, and then wait for the response of the recipient.  Easy, right?  The thing is though, what can I even say about your books that hasn’t been said before, by people who actually have a background in History?  Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, some of your books were actually used as reading material for lessons in high school.

So, with apologies to Dr. Cruz, I’ll have to pass on giving a critique (and possibly say goodbye to that .5 added to my final grade this semester).  However given how rare it is for me to gather the nerve to write a known author, I hope you don’t mind if I ask a very minor favor.  A point in the right direction, if you will.

Now, I’m a Manila Boy of birth if not demeanor, having been born right here in the Capital, but I have my roots in the Visayas.  My mother, a teacher by trade, came from Negros Occidental, from the town of Hinobaan, while my father, a Geologist for DENR’s Bureau of Mines (or was, before he retired), came from a barangay just outside of Ormoc City.  The thing is, aside from occassional get-togethers with the relatives during (increasingly infrequent) reunions, I can barely come up with words to describe the respective hometowns of the two branches of my family tree, Ormoc more so that Hinobaan.  It’s lead to many an awkward conversation, where many of my co-workers can rattle off (relatively) vivid descriptions of the provincial origins of their families, and some of historical trivia.

Me?  The most I could come up with is the fact that, Ormoc was hit by that flood that killed hundreds, that my father (apparently checking on the Geothermal project located nearby) was actually there during that day, and how my grandmother, thinking that he was among those washed away, went from morgue to funeraria trying to find him…  Yeah, definitely an event for the history books, but not exactly something you’d like to remember about your tatay’s hometown.

This deficiency is… Annoying?  Well, it’s kind of close to that feeling.  To not know about where your family came from. 

Now, you might be thinking at this point, well, why not just ask them about where they grew up?  That could definitely be an option for my Mother’s side of the family — it would be very hard actually not to run into her extended family (the Gonzaleses, but also the Tenajas and the Anlaps) in the Hinobaan/Sipalay area — and given the fact that some of them have actually held government positions in that area in the past, access to the town records shouldn’t take too much effort. 

Not so for my father’s side of the family.  My father, well, he’s as stubborn as he is old, and is nominally close-mouthed about his childhood in Ormoc and, frankly, I don’t think he knows much of his hometown’s history either.  At least, about the time before he was born, before the War years (and indeed, the events afterwards, as he left Leyte for Manila to study high school).

This brings me to my point.  Although it might be too early at this point, I’ve decided to try and map the history of my father’s hometown, and use it as the topic of the final project of my course (if and when I actually get to that point)…  Was a study of this nature (and indeed, on the same topic!) done before?  I don’t know, but I want to find out.

I know that DLSU has an extensive library, and the National Archives is another treasure trove just waiting to be mined, but (and here comes my small request) is there any particular title, or any specific historian or writer I will need to pay attention to, as I start in this endeavor? 

Ah, pardon my ramblings.  I have taken too much of your time, and have imposed on you enough.  Thank you, at the very least, for indulging this young fool’s of-yet incoherent plans for his thesis.


Dirk Escalada

Okay, I’ve embarrassed myself enough.  Now to actually mail the thing…

Reality Intervenes

January 29, 2009

I’m the first to admit that I don’t possess a lyrical or poetic soul.  It is probably one of my father’s secret laments, when I think of it, that neither me or my younger sister seemed to have inherited his love for poetry; I can barely rhyme to save my life, and in fact it was one of those factors that nearly made me fail my English classes in Malate Catholic School, all those years ago, while my sister has little interest in Literature in general, unless it happens to pique her attention at that particular point in time (Harry Potter during her years La Consolacion, or more recently Twilight).  By comparison, my father, old in appearance and stubborn in temperment, whom I will probably butt heads with in this life (and in the next, if I were so lucky), writes multi-stanza poems as his passtime, on top of his already labor and time-intensive work as a Geologist (this time as part of a team overseeing the construction of some tunnels in Singapore).  Compare this to me, who these days can barely compose a semi-coherent two-page essay, much more multi-page corporate report; although my father might be considered a rank amateur when compared to some of the professors in DLSU, he’s still got more talent and, more importantly, more passion than I could ever muster.

For all the praise I’ve received from my old boss Sonia Atabug at PWU’s PMRO, I just can’t measure up.  I’ve never really completed anything at this point, even the short story I started way back in Elementary…  And at 27 years of age, frankly, too old to start writing again.  Hearing some of the examples that Dr. Baytan and Dr. Cruz mention in class, heck, learning under such personages makes me feel that I dragged my heels for far too long.  Most of the giants of our country’s Literary traditions literally reached the top of their form before their mid-20’s. 

It’s… galling.

Document Pileup

January 28, 2009

I decided to forgo my increasingly habitual lunchtime wanderings for something more sedate, and hunkered down in the most comfortable couch we had in the pantry to start on the readings we had for Dr. Baytan’s class.  I do believe that the one I started on was an essay by Legasto, but while the paper itself was a very interesting read, halfway through I started to feel drowsy; the effect of going to sleep well past midnight.  I would like to say it was because I was thinking about Dr. Cruz’s suggestion of a publishing house, and the obviously daunting task of saving money for a commissioned publication, but the truth is more mundane and less prosaic.

Basically, I overdid playing Fallout 3.  Yes, I have serious time management issues.

Incidentally, I think I’m just going to have to go with Ambeth Ocampo as the author I’ll write to for Dr. Cruz’s assignment, given the fact that he seems to be the only one out of my own professors (Dr. Baytan and Dr. Cruz) that has an email publicly listed.


What to talk about though?  Although Dr. Cruz made it a point for use to talk about the author’s work in our letters, I haven’t actually read ANY of Mr. Ocampo’s books; I read his columns, sure, but that hardly counts in a case like this.

Wanderings, Too

January 27, 2009

With most of my morning work done, I stood up from my station, and as per habit, I headed rode the elevator down fifteen floors, before strolling down the RCBC Plaza lobby and heading out the Buendia entrance for another of my lunchtime meanderings.  Where did my wanderings take me this time?  Well, my soles did the thinking once more, and I found myself crossing Buendia Avenue, continuing onwards until I found the intersection to Jupiter Street (I think), just before hitting South Cemetery. 

At the Toyota dealership I turned right, and followed the winding path, past the rear entrances of Mapua IT Institute and the Intellectual Property Commission of the Philippines, and the various restaurants and bistros that just conveniently happen to be located just across the street from them.  I followed Jupiter Street until I hit what looked like Makati Avenue, so I swung left this time.  Despite its reputation as a night spot, there were more than a few foreigners wandering there (along with their escorts), possibly visiting some of the food places.  Interwoven among the expats were street hawkers, plying their business, trying to entice people to buy the sunglasses and, in some cases, flutes and whistles that emulated the trill of birds. 

Less numerous than the peddlers, but no less noticeable, were the beggars asking for alms, walking with children in their arms, hoping for people to pity them enough to fork over some extra change.  Often though they are ignored by the tourists, and the office workers out and about during their lunch breaks, making them seem invisible despite being openly seen.  Objects of pity, at the sime derision and disgust.

Onward I went, passing the intersection of JP Rizal, across the way from the Blue Cross Insurance building, and continuing on the sloping path to a bridge that spans the murky and brown surface of the Pasig River.  The bridge crossing wasn’t exciting in itself, though the severe lack of sidewalk surface to walk on made it interesting, especially since Filipino drivers seem to just love hugging the corners of what little there was.

I tottered onwards, going down the stairs on the other side of the bridge, and walked the length of the businesses and homes that faced Pasig River’s stinky expanse.  I finally stopped, on what I think was the Mandaluyong side of the river, facing the edifice that was the Makati City Hall, tall and imposing even when viewed from that point.

I had walked more than half an hour at that point.  It was time to turn back, as my work day was yet unfinished.  And so I did, backtracking my way through Makati Avenue, past the A. Venue mall, past Korean Barbeque places and what seemed to me like the second Great Bowl of China restaurant, to the intersection of Jupiter Street and Makati Avenue.  Instead of turning right, however, continued onward to cross Buendia Avenue. 

At the Pacific Star building, I stopped, then followed Buendia back to RCBC plaza.  Not bad for an hour’s walk, methinks.

Authorial Impasse

January 27, 2009

For something supposedly so simple, the assignment Dr. (Isagani) Cruz foisted upon the class is turning out to be needlessly complicated.  Writing to an author shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Well, finding the names of certain Filipino authors isn’t hard. 

What is?  Finding their contact details, specificially their emails.  Of the known Filipino authors I can remember from memory, I only found Ambeth Ocampo’s email addy.   However, it’s going to be rather awkward trying to email him, as I’ve only read his articles, and none of his books.  Also, Dr. Cruz isn’t really expecting a casual email.

*groans*  You know, sometimes I wish that my father wasn’t such a stubborn old codger, and had his poems published locally instead of pursuing this lofty (and inevitably, untenable) dream of having his work published internationally.  That way, I’d only have to write to him for the assignment instead.

Kind of funny how prolific a poet he is, yet no one outside of the family knows about it.  Written over the span of more than twenty years, I think we have some 3 softbound ‘volumes’ so far, each around 30 to 50 pages thick.  Kind of a waste to have them remain merely as a future family heirloom, don’t you think?

Indeed, our little chat over Yahoo Messenger centered around the topic of his poetry.  I’d want to believe that I won a little, since I got him to submit two of his poems to the EIGHTH ANNUAL (BELATED) HOLIDAY POETRY CONTEST (referenced at, plus he did agree to have some of his poems published here.  It did seem to me that he only agreed to my badgering grudgingly, to get me to shut up about the issue.   Typical.

It was amusing to have him think about what poem he was going to submit.  By his tally, he’s churned out around 100 or more poems since his time in Taiwan to his current tenure in Singapore.

The question is though, is there even a publishing house here in the greater Metro Manila area that takes commission-type printing?  I mean, my plan isn’t really for greater distribution, at least at first; maybe 40 or so books, to be disseminated through our relatives.

The Long Walk

January 26, 2009

And so, I decided to take another long walk during my lunch break, with no real destination in mind, and just let my legs take over for a change.  One wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that, thirty or so minutes later, after following the path of Ayala Avenue onwards to JP Laurel (if I remember correctly) through Tejeron, I wasn’t even in Makati anymore, but somewhere in Paco, in the city of Manila.  Well, the fact that the skyscrapers of the business district gave way to two-story residences, of both the concrete and old-style wood and corrugated-metal variety should have been enough to clue me in that I was far from familiar settings.

It might seem an impressive distance for half an hour’s worth of walking (or an hour if one considers the time I spent walking back to RCBC plaza) but, when one were to believe my father’s stories, of how he walked anywhere from 4 to five kilometers to and from work during his tenure in Taiwan, well, it loses some of its gloss.  Then again, it really is hard to outdo some of the stuff he’s done: at my age, he’d traveled and walked more than half of the country, due to his work with DENR’s Bureau of Mines.  And it shows on wiry frame, his browned skin, darkened by long years under the sun, and by the deep lines on his already aged and weathered face.

My co-workers might ask, with more than a little incredulity, at my sudden urge to emulate, at least in part, my father’s odd habit of ‘walking the earth’.  The answer is quite simple, and in many ways selfish: I haven’t been really keeping up with my exercise schedule over the past few weeks, and I figured that, rather than apply at a fitness gym (which would involve payment), why not just start walking (briskly, I might add) for an hour, everyday.

Yeah, I’m really conscious right now of my weight, given the fact that, as of last week, I peaked at around 69 kilos.  I haven’t weighed that much since before I left for the US for training.  It’s unnerving, going from around 65 kilos to that much…  Just goes to show how much damage the holiday season wreaked on my body.

Yeah, walking, and a closer watch on my intake is the order of the month.  We’ll have to see though whether or not my efforts bear fruit.