Getting Serious.

displaying filipinos manuscript
From the first draft of "Displaying Filipinos," summer 1992

There’s a pile of paper propped up next to my desk. They’re multiple copies of a chapter entitled “Arnold Schwarzenegger,” and it’s about a philandering businessman stuck in traffic as his long-suffering driver tries to navigate their SUV out of Manila and into the provinces. These copies are from my classmates, from a writing class that ended about a couple of months ago. Some of the feedback, like the ones from my teacher, are line-by-line edits, complete with single-spaced, typewritten advice, and those are invaluable. Some comments from my classmates are mere scribbles in the margins, checkmarks and instances of “not clear” and “nice!” but those are okay too.

I still haven’t incorporated any of the revisions into the draft in my desktop, and that’s not okay at all. I’ve read the comments, of course, but they lie there untransmuted, unconverted into kinetic energy. I have many excuses, ready to be fished out in case I have to answer to authority: work, the need to write a more workable ending first, work, tiredness in the evenings, work, my doubts whether the manuscript is any good, work, the nagging sense that I have to exercise which I don’t do anyway, work, and so on. But the only authority figure here is me.

And none of these are legitimate excuses, according to Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work. The book — until recently a free download from — is a great kick in the butt, with passages I simply had to highlight and read aloud to my girlfriend. But in certain ways the book also assumes a fairly level playing field, a sentiment I don’t always agree with, and its tough motivational advice won’t be new to folks who’ve read, say, Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! Pressfield’s main argument is all in the title — one has to do the work — and anything that prevents you from doing that act of creation (the book is also both New Age-y and Chaos Magick-y), anything that holds you back is the enemy. (Pressfield, who refers to the enemy in blatantly martial terms, argues it’s almost always inside you.) It’s the dark side, the Jungian shadow, the dragon that you must slay. Do the Work also argues that the only real and right reason to do this work is not because of riches or fame or that one has to prove anything to friends and family; it’s because one has no choice.


On R. Zamora Linmark’s “Leche.”

There’s no reason why R. Zamora Linmark shouldn’t shoot for the Great Philippine Novel in his ambitious and wide-ranging new book, Leche, even if it’s told from the perspective of a balikbayan, returning to the Philippines after 13 years. The fact that there may be anywhere from 8.2 to 11 million Filipinos overseas – about 10 percent of the Filipino population – surely makes it an “authentic” Filipino stance from which to write. Two of the greatest chroniclers of the Filipino experience, N.V.M. Gonzalez and Bienvenido Santos, wrote from this same vantage point of in-betweenness, after all. Part linear journey of discovery, part fractured travelogue and history lesson, Leche brilliantly milks (ahem) those forms. (Yes, I can get away with that pun because I’m Filipino — see more below.)


On Rafe Bartholomew’s “Pacific Rims” (2010).

When I was growing up in the Philippines, every guy in my neighborhood played basketball. As a writer one is trained not to use absolute terms like “every” or “all,” but this is surely a statement of empirical fact. Maybe those guys were too busy now, or their knees, like mine, had given way in middle age, but at some point in their lives, they had picked up a ball and chucked it through a hoop. And in every neighborhood, there was one. Even I can still remember the makeshift basketball court near my house: planks salvaged from some construction site and nailed to a tree, a frayed net clinging to a rusted hoop bent funny from all the dunk attempts, skinny street dogs weaving between the players’ skinnier legs, worn-out tsinelas and fake Reeboks raising little puffs of brown dust, overshadowed by the clouds of diesel smoke as a jeep rumbles down the street, and the game is temporarily interrupted to make way for the vehicle.

music Pinoy

Where’s The Other Pinay?

Dear Mr. David Byrne,

You mean to tell me the one single Pinay singer who actually has a lead vocal on your project didn’t get to be on your cool poster? I mean, she sings lead vocals and all!


The Wily Filipino

p.s. Thanks, though, for the big spike in visits on my very old Wit and Wisdom of Imelda Marcos page. And I dig the album, though I wish you’d written more about the horrific abuse of human rights (and corruption, and poverty) that the Marcos dictatorship perpetrated upon the Filipino people. That’s all.

music Pinoy

My 15 (+1) Favorite Songs of 2009: 11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me” (2003).

11. Anna Fermin’s Trigger Gospel, “How Do You Judge Me”

Official website.
– From the 2003 album Oh, The Stories We Hold (eMusic link).

The Chicago-based singer-songwriter Anna Fermin has one of those expressively elastic voices that sounds like it belongs to an older generation of singers; she’s partly husky and intimate on one track, then belting it out Grand Ole Opry-style on another. While “country” is the dominant musical idiom in which Fermin writes her songs, it seems like a narrow label for the expansiveness of her band’s styles, like the lilting, jazzy nature of this tune that haunted me all year. “How Do You Judge Me”, is from her band’s 2003 album produced by the late Jay Bennett and was, the liner notes read, “recorded live around Jay’s kitchen table.”

It’s a shame that I couldn’t find longer sound samples or YouTube footage – and I would have loved for people to hear Frank Kvinge’s beautiful guitar solo as well – and that the CD looks out of print and unavailable either on CD Baby or their own website or as downloadable mp3s in the usual places (Lala, Amazon, iTunes). What gives? And why isn’t Anna Fermin an alt-country superstar?

I don’t know what the song means, though I have a guess. Here’s the first stanza and the refrain:

Is it the color of my hair?
Is it the darkness of my skin that keeps you frozen in your tracks?
Is it the clothing on my back?
Is it the unfamiliar drawl of my tongue that makes me small in your eyes?

How do you judge me?
How is it that you know me so well?


The rest of the list so far:

12. The Phenomenal Handclap Band, “15 to 20” (2009)
13. Speech Debelle, “The Key” (2009)
14. ComaR, “I Want You D.A.N.C.E.” (2008)
15. Michael Jackson, “Happy” (1973)
16. Wonder Girls, “Nobody” (2008)