Verses and Illuminations

Midge K. Manlapig

Verses and Illuminations

Poetry and Essays by Midge K. Manlapig


Originally published online via the blogs A Page from My Book and Beauty in Darkness, this book is protected by a Creative Commons Attribution – No Derivative Works 3.0 Supported License.


For Wayne…





Photo taken on 31st October 2010 the nights grow longer, the cold grows stronger, and i seem to have lost my way. but my heart, my mind, my soul they burn with fervor, with passion, with that fever of yearning so strong. just when i think i need to grope, stumble blind, feel my way

through the endless darkness i see a pinpoint, a flash, a faint but present flicker of flame and i walk without fear for i know deep within what i feel, what i know is true, all true, is you.

Conquest Most Sweet


Artwork: Dominion - Natalie Shau, 2009 come hither beloved and let me kiss you: lose yourself in the sweetness, the warmth, the overwhelming softness of flesh, of love, of lust unbridled unleash yourself from the fetters, the rusting shackles

of prudery, of ignorance, of innocence unwarranted... free yourself from your inhibitions and bind yourself to me.

Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity


Artwork: Vanitas - Natalie Shau, year unknown

remember: you are dust to dust you will return. you resort to the paint-pot, the surgeon, the mask to hide your uglinesses it does not change a thing: you're hideous: rotting flesh stinking, reeking beneath rich perfumes, salves, unguents. your heart is rotten, your soul is black,
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your mind filled with the maggots, the vermin of slander, of envy, of greed, of lust, of hate. how i wish: someone would strip you of your pretensions, your follies, your lies, your false blatantly fake pieties, your power-plays your pitiful mockable mockeries... ...and show that you are little more than the devil's precious little whore.


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Artwork: Blue Mermaid - Yoshimasa Tsuchiya, 2009 i love you beyond doubt, beyond pain, beyond pleasure, beyond joy, beyond grief... more than magic, more than power, more than substance, more than even life itself... i lure you to my side, i beckon you to heed this call, this song, this ode to love and longing and passion and life... for i love you more than the sweet, more than the bitter, more than the sane,
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more than the mad, more than life, more than death and possibly beyond.


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Artwork: As She Began to Fade Away - Chad Merritt, 2010 i feel the pain: the rage threatening, roaring, trying to break out like wings through my shoulders. i am bowed, and cowed, and rendered mute and scarletfaced by the things i cannot, could not, would not, should not say lest i kill with a word.

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i want to lash out to bash up to mash up to crush, crunch, cripple, maim; to rip out slanderous tongues, to pop out lying eyes for every wrong inflicted upon my heart, upon my soul, upon my flesh: thrice is the price, the ransom i name, i seek, i demand.

Nine Days

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Artwork: While You're Sleeping - Audrey Kawasaki, 2009 the clock ticks: minutes pass, seconds of life fluttering, flitting by. i sit in the darkness and wait even as the pain cripples me more than i care to admit. the fear breaks me but i try not to let it show. i think of you and think too hard
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and worry myself sick and worn and ragged. and i wait still; nine days ere my year turns and i weep and i sigh and i worry myself to shreds.

Be Not Proud, My Foes

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Artwork: Butterflies Trying to Escape Their Shadow - Peter Callessen, 2005 be not proud, my foes: all is not yet lost! i can still fly free from your lies, your dark mumblings, every single curse you've uttered against me. be not proud of yourselves for you are as nothing, are as rubbish, are as
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dross: you malign that which you understand not; you scoff at that which you fear, which you dread, which you know will mean your end. be not proud, my foes: death will have her last laugh yet... and you will weep, will moan, will mourn, and curse the day you were born.

Grief and Circumstance

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Artwork: Annie Duels the Sun - Angie Wang, 2010 i weep: my heart bleeds sore within and i know not what to do for all are against me, none stand for me; my world is fallen, is black, is bleak, and i am too spent for any struggle my heart is weary and all
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i want to do is die.

730 Days and Then Some

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Artwork: The Second Look - Carin Welz-Stein, date unknown i wrote you off when we first met: you were a child fresh from school; a pest who plagued and pestered and drove me mad for a fortnight. and yet when once again our paths crossed: you seemed to come alive at the sound
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of my name. when we next met, things took a turn: it's been two years and then some and you still plague and pester and drive me mad... but in a good way; a very good way.


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Artwork: Plucked - Audrey Kawasaki, 2010 i want to play with your heartstrings: stretch, twist, test the limits, pluck like those on a lyre, play them like a violin play myself a fugue no, dirge no, ballad no, torch song - no: play myself a bride's-march or, worse: stretch them like the string on a bow suddenly releasing, unleashing every single emotion you fear, you hide, 24 | F i r e l i g h t

you dread; stretch them till they break and let you feel the pain you put me through every single waking moment. but that would be too cruel... better for us to play these strings; hearts in concert, in harmony at last.

To Put Down Roots

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Artwork: Passage for Lost Clouds #0176 - Ken Wong, 13 January 2004 to stop running, to pause mid-stride, to take a break and smell the roses blooming before they wither: to hold one's tongue, to cover one's mouth, to have a finger pressed upon your lips to silence the rampaging thoughts, the cutting words: to put down roots, to quiet down, to settle 26 | F i r e l i g h t

down in domesticity in the midst of modernity, progress marching on and on and on: to put away pen, to shelve away paper, to don one's apron, to minister to the needs of a loving spouse... i seek, i yearn, i sigh... i wish.

No Regrets, No Barriers, No Kidding

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Artwork: Hamlet and Ophelia - Andrej Dugin, year unknown i despise: the naysayers, the ones who claim that what i want will come to naught... the ones who say i can do betterbut how do you define better - ? better for whom? for me? for them? humanity in general? who
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are they to say what i want, what i need?! drop dead, fall flat, leave me be, you wretches, you tiresome, worthless, dark-mongering, night-spewing hags! i tread my own path, i dance my own measure. i chose, i decided, i abide by what i want, i need, i desire. drop dead, fall flat, and leave me be.


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Artwork: Medusa's Corner - Eugene Berman, 1943 i stop in my tracks and say a prayer that i may be saved from all the trouble, the grief, this tragedy this life. i stop and wonder to myself: who am i, what am i doing here, 30 | F i r e l i g h t

where do i go from here, how do i get there, when does it all end?


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Artwork: Ordinary Magic - Wendy S. Rolfe, 2008 i'd like to think that there's something that binds me to you otherwise: i'd have forgotten about you a long, long, long time ago. and yet: the world has turned twice and your face is still the last thing i see ere i fall asleep. why? why? oh, the
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never ending why... i'd shoot myself now; but i wouldn't see how this unfolds now, right?


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Artwork: Why Time Goes Slower when We Get Older - Rhonald Blommestijn, date unknown the things, the people, the events that mark my life like the hours, the rapid... hours speeding away on the face of father time himself. i need patience a patience so intense as to be surreal, inhuman, potent. ticks, heartbeats 34 | F i r e l i g h t

throbbing, flitting, thumping, counting my life away one second at a time. honestly: i look like a fool waiting as i do.

To Love Dormant

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Artwork: Four Unicorns of the Apocalypse - Krista Huot, 2009 do you think, dream, envision... do you see my face whilst your eyes are closed? am i but a memory, a trace of things past... or am i real to you in your heart, your mind, your
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soul? innocent query at the break of dawn.


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Artwork: Reliquary for My Everyday III - Carmen Lozar, 2007
can i ask you to find your way, to find the path that leads... the path that leads to what your heart will want, will need, will... ...consider... consider the odds that block the way, consider the words you want to say. can i ask you to find your way... to find your way... me?

Angel in Prayer
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Photograph from Wayne Whang i love the look on your face in prayer: the peace, the serenity you exude. it's like seeing the face of an angel. i wish i could say these words to you ~ but i fear that you might fly away.

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Beyond Sustenance

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Artwork: Because of Toast - Joe Sorren, 2008 i believe in the color, the flavor, the savor of things consider: the ripe mango... golden, firm, fragrant, honeyed oval... succulence made tangible. its musky perfume cooing a siren song, an almost sexual come-hither signal. tempting in its ripeness, juice dripping like sweat from a fevered brow. the flesh
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soft, yielding, sensual. consider: the verdant green, the audible crunch of a well-made salad the tenderness, the savor, the blood-tang of rare beef causing an almost vampiric hunger in a diner. pity the dieter, pity the picky, pity the prejudiced for they know not what they miss.

Yearning: An Acrostic

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Artwork: The Truth About Comets - Dorothea Tanning, 1945 was it a coincidence: you showing up, not expected, everything in an uproar whatever. heart gone aflutter; now, everything is grace.

Rage and Release
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Artwork: Poison Control 1 -Kenichi Hoshine, date unknown fighting for my life: tearing out, tearing away, tearing apart the very fabric of my grief. unraveling threads of anger, frustration, self-loathing and then some i will break out of this cocoon and emerge fiercer, stronger, braver than i have ever been.
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i will shatter my fragile self and make room for the new me. when that day comes: i feel sorry for anyone who gets in my way.

Lamb to the Slaughter

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Artwork: The Island - Thylacine -Walton Ford, date unknown my hands are tied; am bound in chains dragged to parts unknown like a lamb to the slaughter my spirit broken, my heart in shreds; nothing to live for, nothing to die for. nothing is left for me. muzzled, silenced,
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beaten, hated, spat upon with savage vituperation from all sides reviled by all who know orknew me best. maybe in death i will find peace.

Secret Self

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Artwork:Tsukuyomi- Hiromi Sato, date unknown i write notes to my secret self and tell her who i want, who i wish, who i need to be. under cover of darkness, under cloak of shadow: our conversations consist of blighted hopes, ruined dreams, forlorn conclusions of silly experiments, mundane matters of the heart. but i
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still see myself growing into her: becoming stronger, braver, wiser, more beautiful. someday, i will have no need to speak to my secret self. when that day comes she and i will be one and the same.

Making Do with What One Has

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Artwork: The Fairy Queen - Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, 2009 hate me to the very core of your being; act like i'm not there: i'd rather feel your hatred; it's a better deal than indifference at least you acknowledge the fact that i exist. i ache, i weep, i yearn to no avail.
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but i know you live and breathe; you're well. and i am strangely comforted. that's all i can say.


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Artwork: The Calling - Remedios Varo, 1961 into the darkness i tread the measure the eternal dance the rhythm that never dies. into the darkness i walk the paths that lead to those in need of solace, of tenderness, of love. fire of passion unquenchable, spark of desire ephemeral... guiding light,
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watch over my every step. lead me to where i am needed; lead me to the one.

Unrequited: A Dirge

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Artwork: Dopo la Fine - Margherita Manzelli, 2008 my love: forgive me for loving you. i dread your hate, your rage at finding out. i have no beauty you could take pride in. i have no wit, no glitter, no glamour to mask my flaws. i have naught but the hate, the contempt of my foes 54 | F i r e l i g h t

and there are many of them who would want me anyway? i tire of weeping but what can i do? i am nobody. i do not matter. least of all, to you. and yet, you mean more to me than anything and everything in this world. if i killed myself maybe... ...just maybe... it would
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make you happy.

A Thank You Note to My Foes

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Artwork: Melancholy - Mike Robinson, 2003 to all my enemies, my dearest foes, rivals and arch~rivals alike: thank you. i swoon with gratitude at the myriad annoyances, those petty madnesses you've sent my way. you've sent me on forays into the very edge of madness; pushed me to the brink, the very border 57 | F i r e l i g h t

of death. again, thank you. how i hope someday i can repay your lovely gifts in kind... ...and then some.


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Artwork: I Have Many Secrets - Chad Merritt, 2009 i gaze up at the darkening sky and smile: i see the paths that fate sets up, the paths that lead hither and thither, those wending ways, those weirding ways where all creation dares to, needs to, seeks to go. i stand on the cusp, the very origin 59 | F i r e l i g h t

of destiny: the moon waxes, wanes, withers... another year passes. where do i go, what do i do? i cannot see, cannot discern the path but am grateful for the hands, the eyes who guide me. another year has passed, another set of scores settled, tears shed, gifts given, gifts received, lives taken, lives given and a love that burned brightly burns brighter still. is this the year, is this the time? i stand at the cusp, 60 | F i r e l i g h t

the very origin as the rain begins to fall; its patter echoing your name over and over and over...


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Artwork: Coco and India (Cascade) - Ryan McGinley, 2008~2009 the moon waxed, waned, darkened nigh two-score times since we first met... i've dreamed and every dream is a nightmare. i've thought and every idea is a conflict. it's true then:

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i feel so useless, so unfinished without you.

Whose Move is It Anyway?

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Artwork: Eternal Game - Marina Korenfeld, 2001 i hate the way things are: i hate the fact that i keep moving, running a r o u n d hither thither trying to find the way the path the solution it's burning me out. 64 | F i r e l i g h t

not knowing where you are, seeking but not finding, made dizzy runabout rushabout spinning. just when i think it's over i should give up just when i think failure looms near... you smile. ... here we here i here you go again. and here i am suckered into loving you yet again.


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Artwork: A Want to Believe - Eric Fortune, 2009 i lie awake... enveloped by the cold darkness, shrouded by fragrant mist ~ for once: neither lavender nor valerian none of the elixirs of morpheus serve to quieten my restless senses. the numbing fatigue beckons me to shut my eyes ~

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but i cannot haunted as i am by my demons, beguiled as i am by the memory. if i could - and i can! put a name to my restlessness: it would be yours, o fair one; it would be yours.


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Artwork: Out of Reach from Troglodyte Rose - Teetering Bulb, 2009 to soar into the wide blue yonder... to fly in the face of tragedy... to face the odds insurmountable as they are... get to you; it is worth it.

Search and Find

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Artwork: Queens of the Sky - Teetering Bulb, 2008 tell me where you are: i think i have lost you. will i ever find you? should i give up, should i give in to darkest despair? tell me where you are: i cannot give up,
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i cannot give in ~ not now, not at this late hour ~ not when i already am so close. tell me where you are: i mean no harm, my heart means it. i only want you to know i care for you deeply ~ but alas i dread telling you ~ because i know you will run away.

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Abandon Ye All Hope for All is Lost

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Artwork: Poet - Rudolph Kurz, date unknown someone please: kill me now. my life has no more meaning. every effort wasted, every tear shed worthless, my heart has nothing left but hate and dread and envy 72 | F i r e l i g h t

and pain. i cannot help but be who i am: i have no beauty, i have no worth, i have nothing left. the most precious thing in my life... ...i fear... now belongs to another fairer of face, lither of limb. someone please kill me now. all, alas, is lost.

Necessary Burden

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Artwork: Fragments - Teetering Bulb (Kurt Huggens and Zelda Devon), 2008 it is a burden: tiresome, wearying, annoying, maddening little lump of tissue. subject to the whims, caprices, ins and outs, the litany of a million human tragedies and comedies. can't live with it ~ can't live 74 | F i r e l i g h t

without it. but a heart without love is a poor, pitiful thing indeed.


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Artwork: Kittens' Tea Party - Walter Potter, c. 1871 i would rather be sipping tea and resting my weary head. i am numb; tired out by the tedium. come sit awhile with me; amuse me with idle chatter... make me remember that this life is still worth living regardless of the callousness of the world.

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Aftermath: Post-funeral Thoughts

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Photo by Jojo Vitug for The Philippine Daily Inquirer let this not be the end; the be-all, the end-all ~ instead: let this be the end of the beginning. let not the feet that trudged dutifully end the journey, let not the voices that cheered in mourning, in gratitude, in faith be silenced. the great work
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remains unfinished, undone: the lady, the tireless one, has gone to her rest ~ (well-deserved, well-earned much as we grieve...) ~ let us take up the cudgels, the shovels, the pikes in her name keep the fires burning; never let them die.

Study in Sepia

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Artwork: Sans (Female) - Eric Fortune, 2009 i sit, i wait, i am coming so close to falling apart. the landscape is bleak is grim is grey - is... is neither here nor there is nowhere not quite like the twilight, not quite like the dusk, not as sinister as the deep, deep darkness of midnight.

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but there is no sun, neither starlight nor moon. i rise i walk i trudge wearily in the shadows, barely more than a shadow myself. is this all i am now? is this the grand wreck, the remnant? i see no hope, no reason for release, for ease... is it just me ~ or have i ~ am i ~ dead to the world?

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Joyeaux Anniversaire, Mon Amour

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Artwork: The Rebirth of Beauty in the Midst of Conflict - Joshua Field, 2008 here's to another year; here's to you. may your days be filled with: sunshine despite the rain, pleasure despite the pain, your life's work on rapid rise, (it's up and running, i surmise) for friends, for clan, for colleagues keen (oh, and don't let 83 | F i r e l i g h t

them say anything too mean~!) for experiences new; the man you are, the man you'll be; and perhaps perhaps! maybe... a place in your heart for me? here's to another year; here's to you.


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Artwork: "Lemon Aid" - Jeff Battocletti, 2009 i feel like i've been drained: my brain is like a sponge squeezed dry of every single original idea... the people around me are vampires out to suck every last ounce of creativity, of magic i have. i won't let them. because if the fount of my 85 | F i r e l i g h t

knowledge dries up - they'd never survive the drought.

Before Battle

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Artwork: Judith and Holofernes - Keith Thompson, date unknown i prepare myself for battle; i gird myself for war... i put my sword to hand; it is sharp, and keen, and my arm is strong. i set my eyes on the prize: my heart, my soul they both need saving. feel my anger, let my fury
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burn: let me hack at the heads of my mortal foes self-loathing, fear and dread, insecurity fall dead at my feet! no mercy for the fallen; with my blade of truth, of passion, determination, acceptance they will lie bleeding before me. they enslaved me once; it shall never happen ever again.

A Demitasse for One

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the scent makes me think: silent memoirs, lonely days i sigh, cup in hand.

A Poem in Two Parts One 89 | F i r e l i g h t

Artwork: Blue - Audrey Kawasaki, 2009 i want to be there to wipe away the tears you shed in your silent hours, your hours spent alone away from them, from them all: those who smile in public but sneer in private behind your back against the walls scribblers of insults and whatnot those 90 | F i r e l i g h t

scamsters who claim your friendship. i want to hold your hand in the best, the worst, the most of times, hours, days, weeks, months, years forever and then some. the earth has journeyed thrice and more since that day that day you ingrained yourself into my mind. i no longer care what frenemies may say, scream, rant and wail: i don't care if you turn away so long as i 91 | F i r e l i g h t

know for a fact this admiration, infatuation, inspiration... is purely, simply, sincerely love.


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Artwork: Boy in Static - Audrey Kawasaki, 2010 i look outside into the bleak the cold the grey the wet world below and sigh and think and wonder and look back on a sunny warm may day: how i wanted to say something other than the technobabble gobbledegook we were conversing in, how i wanted to speak of hope, 93 | F i r e l i g h t

of life, of faith and then some... but i... am a coward and i spoke not. and i regret my silence every second minute hour day that has passed and i look out at the cold world below... and wish it was may and wish you were here and i could say what i want need wish to say.

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On the Deterioration of English in the Philippines
I had the opportunity to interview some of the country's finest financial minds last week for a project and, while the photographer was setting up the lighting equipment, the conversation turned to the communication skills of today's young people. Both the gentlemen I was interviewing at the time were appalled by what they'd been hearing from the mouths of modern Filipino kids: 95 | F i r e l i g h t

• •

• •

If you speak English with an American twang, a British lilt, or even an Aussie drawl, people make fun of you. They think you're stuck up or putting on airs; If you speak straight English to anyone under the age of twenty-five, they'll ask you to stop: Ate, Tagalugin mo naman; ka-nosebleed naman kasi English mo, e. And the aforementioned statement will be accompanied by a wry, even pained grimace; If you speak straight English with a "foreign" accent, people will throw you a look of wonder and say "Wow, ba't 'di ka mag-trabaho sa call center?"; Kids these days swear a lot - and, whenever they swear (or try to swear) in English, it sounds so wrong.

English was the very first language I was exposed to, having been born into a family of educators and civil servants. Television served as my babysitter and I picked up an ambiguously American accent because of Sesame Street and various cartoons on RPN's Saturday Fun Machine weekend block. My earliest memories are of books (all in English), of learning to read from Reader's Digest, of watching my younger aunts rehearsing their lines from numerous plays or classic pieces for elocution, of teaching my younger brother how to read because he wanted to read the Bible. I remember that English was the lingua franca for conversation in school; any words in Tagalog were reserved for recitation in Filipino or Araling Panlipunan or any number of idiomatic expressions used to spice up a conversation. If you have a chance to read Arnold Arre's soul-stirring graphic novel Martial Law Babies, keep a keen eye on the conversations: they're pretty much the way my peers and I spoke to each other in the late eighties' and early to mid 1990s. Fast forward to 2010: I have this sinking feeling that I am one of a dying breed of English-speakers / writers. Most people younger than me are more comfortable with Taglish - that bastardized mix of English and the mother tongue - and their conversations are peppered with all sorts of vulgarities, expressions picked up from loud, crass transvestites who have come out of their closets to shock us through mainstream media. When I was a schoolgirl, it was considered de rigeur to listen to FM radio stations like RX 93.1 and Magic 89.9; today, I don't bother listening to FM radio because every station I tune into sounds like a cheap club filled with filthymouthed showgirls and their sleazy customers. I don't watch local television anymore except for the news because I know that scumbags like Willie Revillame will be screaming at me while selling pipe dreams to the hapless masses. It disgusts me to no end that even kids from the Big 3 Universities - schools whose alumni have long been known for their linguistic superiority - can't speak or write English properly at all. Who do we blame for this? Can we blame the media for unleashing a tsunami of cheap, uncouth, sickening programs on the public? Do we blame the late Corazon Aquino and the much-reviled Joseph Estrada for their insistence on putting an emphasis on subjects other than English in the national education system? Do we blame the yayas hired by middle-class households for exposing their young charges to local pop culture? I honestly don't know.But what I do know is that young people today are getting an extremely watered-down linguistic education - and this, I believe, is a damning factor for our failure to rise to the same level as our Asian 96 | F i r e l i g h t

neighbors. In the 1980s, we were the third largest nation in terms of functional literacy in English; today, I don't even want to know where we stand. English is still my personal lingua franca: my language of choice for conversations both in business and among friends and family, my language of choice to express how I feel, my language of choice for the writing that serves as my bread and butter. Not to disparage the mother tongue, but English makes my life a whole lot easier - and much more colorful. And if anyone is stupid enough to either laugh at my accent, think that my vocabulary and grammar give them nosebleeds, and believe that I ought to be working as a lackey for stupid Caucasians to rail at, that person is going to die a slow, painful, lingering, and very public death.

On Bullying – and Why the Parents of Bullies Should be Punished Along with Their Children
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Those of you who grew up with me at Benedictine Abbey School know this: I was bullied horribly as a child. I have no idea what I did to merit such treatment, but I spent eight years getting stuff thrown at me and being called names. My unusual surname was made fun of, I was derided for being bookish and bespectacled. It was as if everything I did was wrong in the eyes of those around me. I had my hair permed when I was eleven - and ended up being called an Aeta because the resulting perm was so damned kinky. My grandfather died when I was twelve - and the boys in my class said it was because he had a heart attack at the sight of my ugly face. I was told I was ugly and stupid and naive - by girls whom I considered my friends. I was kicked down a staircase, but the school did nothing because the kid who gave the push was the spoiled-rotten youngest son of a prominent official. In fact the school made me look like a villain, that I brought it upon myself because I would not behave like all the other kids. Is it really so wrong to be different? Is it really wrong to dance to the beat of a different drummer? When I was growing up, that seemed to be the norm. If you were different, you were considered weird, ugly, stupid, crazy - all manner of labels would be plastered over you. The school guidance counsellor used to say I was severely maladjusted and needed professional help. I tried everything I could to fit in and I failed miserably. It's been nearly twenty years since those horrific times. I have since grown up; we've all grown up - except for the kid who kicked me down the stairs; he died when we were nineteen - kidnapped and brutally murdered. It was all over the papers - but, strangely enough or perhaps not - I felt no sympathy. The big bully finally found bigger bullies who tragically knocked him into his place - most likely one of the lowest circles of hell. I wrote this entry because I just saw something on one of those cheap, hastily done local soap operas. The old tragic tale of the ugly, outcast kid bullied by prettier, wealthier, but spiritually uglier brats is still one that harrows up my soul after all these years. Children who bully others are the ones who need professional help. They are the maladjusted ones. They are the ones with the real issues. I mean, really: who cares how pretty you are, how smart you are if you have a mouth full of insults and a mouthful of hate. The parent who encourages his or her children to bully others should be sent to jail and kept there for rest of his or her life. Because behind the little brats who make life miserable for their peers are parents who are little more than monsters themselves.

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On Food, Life, and Being Gorgeously Fullfigured
I was imperially pissed off by a little word-bite I read in the Rushes column of the Sunday Inquirer: Phoemela Barranda - masibang kumain [Phoemela Barranda - glutton] For those of you who don't know or have never been exposed to the Philippine fashion scene, Phoemela Barranda was - and still is - one of the country's more popular model-celebs. When she first hit the scene over a decade ago, she was as slender as most models in the biz. In recent years, however, she has certainly gained some magnificent curves that have made her more beautiful. So it seriously irks me to hear these ridiculous canards make fun of her eating habits. What's wrong about women enjoying their food? That's the problem with this media-addled world: unhealthy stereotypes have been keeping us from becoming who we want to be, from becoming who we really are. There ought to be more women like Phoemela who love to eat. Women like us have a certain joie de vivre; we do not shy away from new tastes and textures. Ergo, we do not shy away from experiencing new things. There ought to be more women like Nigella Lawson (shown above, enjoying a hot cuppa tea) who look fabulous thanks to a healthy combination of a good appetite and a perky disposition. Women like us can look at the darker side of life and take it with a grain of salt (or a couple ounces of very good chocolate). There ought to be more women like the late Julia Child who teach people to slow down and enjoy life. Child's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is not the easiest cookbook to work through. (Ask Julie Powell of Julie and Julia fame!) But it teaches one to do things a step at a time and that it's okay to make mistakes. There ought to be more women like Maya Angelou who show people that you can recover from even the most devastating tragedies. I would recommend her cookbook-memoir Halleluijah! It shows you the sort of hurt she went through when she was younger and how food and verse took her from humble beginnings and turned her into someone special. We ought to be telling younger girls that it's okay to be curvaceous, that you should be happy with the body you were born with, the body you're growing into. We ought to be telling younger girls not to listen to those hypocrites who tell them that women can only be pretty if they're Kate Moss-scrawny. That's not beauty; that's a mocking caricature of beauty, a useless, sickly stick figure with no real purpose except for clothes to hang onto. It's only now that I'm in my thirties that I have begun to take pride in my 99 | F i r e l i g h t

Rubenesque, Baroque figure. I am proud to be a 38C with a trim waistline and generous hips - and I never went to some idiot with a scalpel to get this figure. I have good skin and hair. I have a good smile. I may not be the sunniest-tempered person, but I do my darndest best to cheer people up. I love to eat. I'm darned voluptuous. And I am beginning to learn to appreciate my life. I am beautiful. And no anorexic fashion hag is going to tell me otherwise. Besides, Italian director Fedrico Fellini said it best: Never trust a woman who doesn't like to eat. She is probably lousy in bed. Think about that, boys...

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Lolo Papa: Memories of My Maternal Grandfather
I remember waking up on the morning of September 9th, 1988 and asking my father how my maternal grandfather was doing. The previous evening, you see, my mother's sister and her husband came to our house to tell us that my grandfather my Lolo Papa - had been rushed to a hospital in Daly City; my younger aunts in California said he had a heart attack. I remember how my elders whispered frantically among themselves; I remember hearing snippets of conversation where the words extreme unction were mentioned. I asked my younger brother who, even then at barely nine, had an encyclopedic knowledge of liturgical terms what an extreme unction was. It turned out to be the term for the Anointing of the Sick but, in this case, was more appropriately referred to as the Last Rites. I did not like the sound of that. Nor did I like what my father said in reply, "He's dead, Ritzie; he's gone." Gone. The grandfather who wrote my school speeches, the one who opened his extensive library to his bookish grandchildren, the man who opened my eyes to the world beyond Philippine shores was dead at the age of 64. I don't remember much from that day, but I remember coming to school numb in both body and soul. I remember breaking down when a classmate crassly said that my grandfather probably died because he saw my [ugly] face. Other classmates tell me I nearly killed the boy who said those words, that I put my hands around his throat and tried to throttle him. They say my grief and the rage that came with it were terrible to see. Strangely, I have no memory of that particular event. All I remember is that my mother sent a note to my adviser, Mrs. Abot, telling her that I would be out of school for a while as we were in mourning and waiting for my grandfather's body to be flown home from California. It was the first time that I actually experienced a death in the family; the death of my great-grandmother in 1985 didn't count as I was so young at the time. I could not make heads or tails of anything; while my grandfather was never really in the best of health - indeed, the Lenten fast usually had him bedridden - I could not imagine him dead. Not even, alas, when the coffin finally arrived with him in it: a frozen statue, a wax dummy of the man we knew. I remember being a spoiled rotten little princess; the first grandchild on my mother's side of the family, one precocious enough to speak straight English from the cradle and read old Reader's Digests by the time she was two. My grandfather indulged me with a wealth of Barbie dolls, stuffed animals, and tons of chocolate from his many trips abroad. However, even an indulgent grandpa has his limits and I likewise remember the sarcasm that punctuated his occasional scoldings: sharp biting wit that would shut me up faster than any spanking ever did.

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I remember him teaching me how to count in French as we rode the elevator in our Paris hotel, how to toss coins into the Fontana di Trevi in Rome. I remember him showing me the greatest works of art at the Louvre: paintings and sculptures that, until that point, I'd only seen in books. I remember him taking time out of his busy schedule in Singapore to join me and my parents at the zoo. I remember how French and Italian kids would point to him and shout "Japonais / Giapponese" because of his distinctly Japanese features. I remember him sorting me through my first real French meal (yes, there were frogs' legs!) and him giving me my first taste of a Chinese fish-ball soup in Malaysia. I remember how he was always impeccably dressed, seeing how he'd been a military man, a public servant, and a diplomat. If I close my eyes, I think I can still catch a whiff of the Old Spice cologne he wore. I remember his laughter, the sparkle in his eyes. I remember how dapper he looked even in his house clothes. I remember how he liked ube cakes and fresh atis in season; how he cooked a mean embotido that appeared on our Holiday table every year without fail. I remember his graciousness, his integrity; how, as a government official, he took no bribes and kept his own counsel. They don't make public servants like him in this debauched day and age. I remember disappointing him by losing the student council election just a few days before he died. I remember curling up in my room and weeping inconsolably when I got home from school. I remember thinking how unfair the world was (it still is, come to think of it). I remember wondering to God why He took my Lolo away and left the big bullying kid in school alive when he deserved death more than anyone else did. Truth be told, however, I still grieve; I still mourn. Why? I was never able to say a proper goodbye.

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On Taking a Walk to Clear One’s Head
Admittedly, I am not really a park person. Despite the fact that my parents used to take me and my brother to jog at the Luneta or ride bikes at the CCP Complex, I never really developed a strong liking for green lawns dotted with benches and the odd bit of statuary. However, there are days when a walk in the park seems to be the only logical solution to a severe case of writer's block or, more frequently, the pangs of [still to-be-admitted and] unrequited love. I developed this particular habit way, way back in grade school. Benedictine Abbey, you see, was built on a hill and this resulted in a rather peculiar design for the school complex. While the high school building and surrounding grounds (specifically the track oval and covered court) were constructed along conventional lines, the grade school building was a split-level affair built into the side of a hill that sloped appealingly down to the pre-school buildings at its foot. The hillside was a verdant expanse that was mowed infrequently and there were a number of other plants growing haphazardly on it, specifically on the unusual rock formations that became "personal" spaces for a number of children at the time. I would know; I was one of those kids. My little spot of solace was a jutting bit of rock that looked for all the world like a preacher's pulpit in an old-fashioned church. It was where I would sit and think when I felt that everyone was picking on me. I would just sit there; not crying for once, unusually silent. I would just stare at the foliage around me and take deep breaths of clean, fresh air. With the blahs out of my system, I would go back to class. In college, trekking over to Harrison Plaza to pick up new David Eddings novels or audio cassettes (CDs being prohibitively expensive at the time and mp3 technology but a dream) between classes replaced those treks to my little "balcony" on the hill. Later still, getting acquainted with the different schools where the oratoricals I competed in kept me from getting too jittery before those nerve-wracking (and throat-drying) contests. (And, truth be told, if anyone told me then that most of the more significant people in my life would be Lasallites, I probably wouldn't have deliberately flunked the entrance exam. But that, my friends, is a story for another day...) These days, I rarely ever get the chance to get out and take a walk. But, whenever I do, I make it a point to take deep breaths to clear my heads of the cobwebs that have gathered in it over time.

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Ten Things to Keep Yourself from Going Bonkers
Ask me what I'd rather be doing right now - at this very moment - and I'll tell you off the bat that I would really rather be baking several dozen cookies right now. However, since I am miles away from my kitchen and oven, one needs to rethink that particular option and do something else. Truth be told, I feel like I'm just quietly simmering, brewing, stewing, cooking something up in my brain and getting ready for something new. My mind is like a teabag soaking in hot water: a little patience, some waiting is required before you can enjoy whatever it is I have in mind. So what does a girl do whilst her mind is simmering? From experience, there are actually ten things you can do to keep yourself from going crazy: 1. Brush up on your existing skills. Attend workshops on subjects that play to your strengths or read up on new developments in your existing field. In my case, this has involved writing workshops and poetry readings. 2. Pick up new ones. It always pays to learn something new. 3. Work out. Not only will you get a better body, but you'll also be able to keep your mind off your stresses. 4. Try something new. Whether it's a new hairstyle, a new food, or a new sport, new things always serve to broaden your horizons and improve your outlook. 5. Spend some time solo. You don't always have to be part of a crowd; in fact, you can probably get your best ideas whenever you take solitary walks or just curl up someplace and dream. 6. Keep reading. You'll never know what you'll be able to pick up. 7. Stay away from stressful people. Otherwise, you might end up becoming the unfortunate sponge that absorbs their negative energies. Run away while you can! 8. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities. If you aren't happy where you are, keep a keen eye out for those possibilities that will let you use your talents to the max. 9. Give hugs. Because everyone needs comfort, after all. 10.Pray. Because our Heavenly Father is the greatest source of comfort and will always be our rock and fortress. 104 | F i r e l i g h t

Memories of a Classmate’s Suicide
The year was 1992; the date was August 11th. We were in the school chapel; not the little one on the second floor of the high school building but the main one whose cross then dominated the Alabang Hills skyline. The day began grimly enough; the whole senior class turned out for the requiem Mass for Michael Hachiya of Section 45. Mike was supposed to be a batch ahead of us, but stopped school for a year to undergo dialysis. We all thought he was going to be okay; he had, after all, come back to school with our batch the previous June. Towards the end of July, however, he took a turn for the worse. And, sadly, that was that. The day began grimly enough; but as if that weren't bad enough, a horror story began to be whispered amongst ourselves. The night before, one of the most wellliked guys in the batch shot himself in the head. At first, we all scoffed at the news. Fidel Castillo was a cheerful guy; what reason would there be for him to kill himself? But what we thought was a bad joke turned out to be the horrible truth when Fidel's coffin was wheeled into the chapel barely five minutes after we bade Mike goodbye for the last time. The death of a young person by his or her own hand has long been the topic of many songs, poems, films, and television shows. My generation - specifically, my batch at Bene - knew this from watching Robert Sean Leonard's touching final scene in Dead Poets' Society, listening to Pearl Jam's Jeremy, and seeing Scott Scanlon play a tragic game of Russian roulette on Beverly Hills 90210. We just didn't think that such things were real, that it would never happen to us, to one of our own. Least of all Fidel, alas. We were freshmen when he played the nefarious Mr. Smirnov in the school production of Anton Chekhov's The Boor - a role not normally given to freshman boys short of their thirteenth birthday. But it was a masterful performance, one that would not have been out of place in a professional theatre group. This would 105 | F i r e l i g h t

be followed by several prizewinning performances in various school plays from Delubyo to a deliciously comic turn as Tony in that perennial crowd-favorite A New Yorker in Tondo. He had a gift for mimicry and copied Mr. Ylarde, one of our favorite teachers, to the hilt one Teachers' Day to everyone's delight. I remember hearing our then-head of the English department say that Fidel had a future treading the proverbial boards. He was a gentlemanly sort - rare even in those less debauched days. He'd carry girls' books and do the heavy lifting whenever necessary. He was always polite and I don't remember ever hearing him say anything harsh to me or to any other member of the fairer sex. I remember him going in for COCC in our junior year, but also remember that he was never an officer. Rather he was a member of the militarily-oriented Spearhead Club. To us, this was unusual. Still, he definitely embodied the words "an officer and a gentleman". I also remember a grim time in my freshman year when I stood at the balcony at the back of a third-floor classroom and wondered aloud what it would be like if I jumped and fell upon the spiky fence below. Fidel was there with JP Simbulan, one of our other classmates and a very good friend of his. They both told me that it wasn't worth it, that life was still worth it even if I felt that the world was too much with me and too soon. He was that sort of person. Which is why we felt that it was impossible for him to kill himself. Fidel has been gone for seventeen years, but most of us still don't know why he did it. Of course, there was a lot of gossip that came in the days following his death and even after he was buried - but does anyone know anything at all about the truth of what happened on the night of August tenth? A few do, but I'd rather not ask. Currently being under treatment myself for bipolar disorder, I think I have a bit of an idea as to why. I think Fidel felt that he was under a lot of pressure. But pressure is something all high school seniors experience. It's the "make or break" year: there are colleges to apply to, courses to be considered. You're finally top dog after three years of being an underling - but now the faculty expects you to be on your best behavior, to be a good example for all the younger kids. You have terror-teachers issuing the grave threat "You will not graduate!"; and that's on top of one's parents' expectations that - somehow, some way - you'd come out of the ruckus shining and smelling of roses. You play-act the game of love with other inexperienced players, going into the game starry-eyed and coming out of it wondering if any of it was worth it. We all felt the heat, but while it pushed many of us (myself included) to the brink of madness, we were pretty sure it wasn't going to kill us.

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Or so we thought until Fidel killed himself. I was thinking of Fidel today not only because we marked the seventeenth year of his passing yesterday, but because of the violent death of another batchmate's cousin the other day. Not a suicide this time, but a murder. Times like these, I drive myself half-mad trying to make sense of all the senselessness involved. Why them? Why that way? Always the eternal "why" that no one seems to ever have been able to answer. My mind shrinks from the violence of it all, the brutality that seems to have overcome any form of civilized behavior Seventeen years on, my classmate's death still makes me sad. I wonder what he would have been like if he lived and went on to grow up with all the rest of us. What line of work would he have gone into? Would he be married now? Would he have kids? Would he have fulfilled Mrs. Grape's long-ago prophecy of him becoming a thespian, playing to audiences across the globe? It grieves me to admit that, like those questions on why he chose to take his own life, those questions will remain unanswered.

On Throwing Away Bad Memories and Keeping the Good Ones
One of the things I'm currently trying to do to keep myself from going completely bonkers is to throw out practically everything that gets me down, to purge myself and my personal space - of just about everything related to the worst times in my life. I've already done this several times in the past and it has involved the burning of old diaries filled with painful memories of a wretched adolescence, the banishment of old yearbooks to the storage room below stairs, writing off exes as good as dead whilst all of them are very much alive. As much as I can, I try not to join my family whenever they go to Pandacan on Sundays. My paternal grandmother and the rest of the motley crew in the old house can bicker and backstab each other for all I care, but I refuse to be dragged into their dramas. I've tossed out retreat letters that were written for the sake of saying "Oh, I sent everyone in class a retreat letter." I've ditched snapshots of faux friends - the snakes and vipers all burned. A few memoirs, however, have been kept.

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One such item is the very last handwritten letter I received from the best friend who died; it's dated sixteen years ago, October in our freshman year in college. She was at UP-Diliman whilst I was at PWU-Manila. The letter was a response to one I wrote to her a couple months before. I told her that I was enjoying myself at my school, that I could breathe easier and feel freer; quite a change, I said, from the stuffy environment we had at Benedictine Abbey. I asked for her advice on what languages to study; at the time, I was learning to read Greek and Japanese on my own and was planning to cross-enroll somewhere to learn either French or Italian. She, on the other hand, spoke glowingly of the UP campus in Quezon City and how she, too, was enjoying her newfound freedom. She wrote of her then-boyfriend and how they were getting along quite swimmingly. She told me she'd opted to go for psychology as a course and that it was going to be her pre-med (turned out to be pre-LAW, instead). We missed each other, of course; how were we supposed to know that we would only see each other again after seven years and that - alas! - would also be the very last time? There are the postcards I sent to my parents while on that long-ago tour of Europe and North America with my maternal grandparents and one of my aunts. I have to laugh at the innocence of my words, my child's scrawl declaring my first taste of steak (it was in KL, well-done, and I didn't like it at all), my wonder at being in Disneyland for Donald Duck's 50th birthday, how excited I was at having seen Pope John Paul II in person in Rome. I read them and remember being in the pilgrimage town of Lourdes on my mother's birthday and how my grandfather told me to tell the Blessed Mother to send blessings to my Mom. My postcards are mixed with the ones my elders wrote to my parents and I see how much they all loved me despite the fact that I was quite the brat at times. "We bought chocolates in Belgium," says the missive from Brussels, "and Ritzie [my home nickname] is really enjoying herself. She has saved some for the babies. [my younger brother and two cousins]" The hourglass that was given away as a souvenir when I graduated from high school still sits on my desk at home. I suppose I could have smashed it in one of my fits of temper, but I guess I kept it with the old adage "This, too, shall pass" in mind. The anime stuff accumulated during my fangirl phase was gradually given away to friends with an artistic bent. Magazines, comic compilations - I've passed them on to my sister and some of my former students at Mapua. What I have kept, however, are the ones that matter: first editions of Mamoru Nagano's The Five Star Stories manga compilations in both English and Japanese, and signed prints given to me by manga artist Yuu Watase when she came to Manila in 2000. And no: I have no intention of giving those away. I have kept no pictures of any of my exes or long-ago crushes. Seriously: what would be the point of keeping a rogues' gallery? It'll only give me a headache! (I have pictures of the current apple-of-my-eye, though; but that's another story...) I make it a point to give away things sent to me by the cousin I hate the most. For one thing, she just forces things on me to make herself look magnanimous. For 108 | F i r e l i g h t

another, I'm actually allergic to all the stuff she gives me. I know I can't get rid of all the emotional baggage overnight and I have also realized that removing the physical - the tangible - part of my worst memories has been helping me cope with my bipolar disorder. In the meantime, I need to clear my spaces - and, yes, bake another huge batch of cookies whilst I'm at it.

Obedience and the Cross
Christ, in the days of His mortal life, offered His sacrifice with tears and cries. He prayed to Him who could save him from death, and He was heard because of His humble submission. Although He was Son, He learned through suffering what obedience was, and once made perfect, He became the source of salvation for those who obey Him. Hebrews 5:7-9 What is the measure of human obedience? Do you suppose that you, as an individual, could be as obedient as the Lord Jesus? Would you have willingly allowed your enemies to torture you to within an inch of your life? Would you have willingly carried that heavy beam of wood from the center of Jerusalem, through the city's cobbled streets, past crowds of people who taunt you with the greatest insults and spit with impunity into your face, up the 109 | F i r e l i g h t

rocky face of Golgotha - the notorious Place of the Skull? Would you have been willing to let coarse and crass soldiers smash iron nails into your wrists and ankles, to let them rip your arm out of its socket so you could be properly balanced when the cross was hoisted up? I didn't think so. Yet, someone was willing to go through this arduous, bloody ordeal. Someone willingly gave up every comfort in life to die in this most hideous manner. Someone gave up the possibility of fame and reknown to endure a form of execution that people of the time considered most shameful. Why? To save us from our sins! To free us from the bondage of wickedness, from the slavery to which our first parents, Adam and Eve, condemned us because of one foolish act. To us as Christians, we look up at the cross - an object once abhorred and reviled and look at it with great reverence and awe. This symbol of shame and agony has become our battle standard in our daily fight against the snares of evil. It galls me that those who live lives of debauchery - rock stars, fashion designers, faux artists trying to make "a point" - mock this most sacred of symbols, this very core of our faith. It is horrible how they have tried to turn it into a fetish object, a parody. Christ suffered for us. He obeyed the Father's Will out of His great love for us. His Death saved us and earned us the right to Eternal Life. Remember that; keep that in both your heart and mind.

From a Triumphant Entry to Triumph on the Cross Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord; Peace in Heaven and Glory in the Highest! - Luke 19:38 (New American Standard Bible) It is mind-boggling but true: just a few days after the Jews saluted Him with palm and olive branches, strew their cloaks before him like the proverbial red carpet, and greeted him with mighty shouts of Hosanna!, they had Jesus nailed to a cross. Historically, this was considered one of the most shameful methods of execution devised by any culture since the dawn of civilization. The Wikipedia entry on crucifixion during the time of the Roman Empire makes it sound very heinous, indeed:

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The goal of Roman crucifixion was not just to kill the criminal, but also to mutilate and dishonour the body of the condemned. In ancient tradition, an honourable death required burial; leaving a body on the cross, so as to mutilate it and prevent its burial, was a grave dishonour. Given the harshness or severity of the punishment, it is no wonder that Pontius Pilate hesitated about having Jesus executed. He was probably thinking, "The guy's just a rabble rouser - no call for nailing him to a cross! Maybe I can just have him roughed up and then let him go." Pilate, unfortunately, did not count on the blackmail of the High Priests (" are no friend of Caesar's...") and was presumably taken aback by the vitriol and vehemence of the Lord's primary accusers. Matthew 27:24-25 captures a scene involving a man hopelessly backed into a corner and a mob so consumed by hate that they invoke a blood oath/curse (taking responsibility for someone's violent death) upon themselves and their children: When Pontius Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands and said: "I am innocent of the blood of this Just person. You see to it." And all the people answered and said: "His blood be upon us and on our children." A crown of thorns and briars rather than a crown of gold and precious stones; a cross and nails of iron instead of a throne and scepter. And yet: more than all the wealth won by any earthly monarch, Jesus won something far greater for each and every single one of us. He won us our freedom from sin. By His Blood, we have been cleansed of all impurities. By His Pain and His Wounds, we have been healed . Non-believers may claim that it is a hollow victory, one marred by the fact that the world is currently under the throes of a new wave of materialism, a new wave of hedonism. But why should we, as Christians regardless of whichever Church we belong to (and, as far as I'm concerned, we're all bound by the same Covenant in Christ), listen to these spiritually poor prophets of doom and destruction? We have been saved, redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb on that fateful, glorious Friday over two millennia ago. Remember that.

On Faith and Healing
There was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem next to the Sheep Pool there is a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people, blind, lame, paralysed.

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One man there had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and when Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in that condition for a long time, he said, 'Do you want to be well again?' 'Sir,' replied the sick man, 'I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets down there before me.' Jesus said, 'Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk around.' The man was cured at once, and he picked up his mat and started to walk around. Now that day happened to be the Sabbath, so the Jews said to the man who had been cured, 'It is the Sabbath; you are not allowed to carry your sleeping-mat.' He replied, 'But the man who cured me told me, "Pick up your sleeping-mat and walk around." ' They asked, 'Who is the man who said to you, "Pick up your sleeping-mat and walk around"? ' The man had no idea who it was, since Jesus had disappeared, as the place was crowded. After a while Jesus met him in the Temple and said, 'Now you are well again, do not sin any more, or something worse may happen to you.' The man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had cured him. It was because he did things like this on the Sabbath that the Jews began to harass Jesus. - John 5: 1-16

Physical illness is something I don't worry about much of the time, save perhaps for the occasional bout of allergic rhinitis and the eczema that flares up almost as soon as the temperature hits the middle and high thirties. Well, that is until my doctor told me to start taking breaks earlier this year. But even burning out physically pales in comparison to depression, to the pain that gnaws at your heart and mind rather than your muscles. Take it from someone who has had to deal with the Big D for more than half her life: the idea that you're experiencing feelings of unexplainable feelings of sorrow, despair, and worthlessness in varying degrees is frightening. It's worse when you realize that you don't know when your blues are going to set in. Sometimes, you're absolutely blissful - then something comes in to rain on your parade and everything pretty much goes downhill from there. I was under medication for depression about five years ago, around the time I left Trend Micro. I don't care what medical practitioners will say about the matter: medication does not work. All it will do is render you numb. You aren't sad anymore, but you aren't happy, either. No amount of Tofranil or Zoloft or Efexor will help. Indeed, the nausea, dizziness, insomnia, hypertension, and weight gain (yes, antidepressants can make you fat!) just aren't worth it. 112 | F i r e l i g h t

The whole time I was on antidepressants, I was like a zombie. It was as if I was on auto-pilot, everything I said was a pre-programmed response. It wasn't a picnic at all. Even worse, my doctor at the time told me that I would have to keep taking antidepressants for the rest of my life. What the hell...?!? Now, antidepressants aren't the cheapest of medicines. To be truthful about it, one box - good for about 30 doses - will set you back a whopping P 1,750.00. Depressing, isn't it? As if that wasn't bad enough, most HMOs do not provide coverage for psychotherapy and its related medications. The worst part of it all is what I discovered when I did research on venlafaxine, the active ingredient in Effexor: it causes debilitating migraine-like headaches in the long run and also has the potential to damage one's liver. Ah, adding insult to injury, alas... I have had calls from several "well-meaning friends" who told me to stay on the meds. Well, with friends like them, who needs enemies? While it isn't good to suddenly stop taking a prescribed round of medications, I actually felt better when I quit taking mine cold turkey. Except for a few really bad patches caused by some very bad people, I've actually managed to survive. In the years that followed my desertion of chemical aid, I realized that one also needs to have a healthy spirit to gain balance in both body and mind. You remember the old Latin proverb Mens sana in corpore sano? It applies here and then some. I'm not a very religious person. Most people consider this an irony because my brother is a priest, both my parents are active in church, and my sister plays piano for the choir. To be perfectly honest, however, I have no aversions to my religion but I hate the hypocrisy of various individuals who have done nothing but mislead people from proper service and worship. Indeed, there have been times when I actually considered atheism and even satanism (I was sixteen and more than a little put out by the little whores who only joined the campus ministry to meet boys.) because of the disgust I felt over the anomalies I saw around me. Yet, despite this aversion towards my parish, it was in my Christian faith that I began to find the comfort I'd been craving for since the blues first hit back in high school. I may not say the rosary as often as my parents probably want me to, but I start and end each day with a prayer. I don't go to Mass every day, but I do read the day's Scriptural readings. I may not be active in any individual ministry, but I help my mother in her ministry whenever I can. (Usually as her typist / transcriptionist / researcher!) Whenever things really get to be too much, I hurry over to the nearest Perpetual Adoration Chapel where I can tell the Lord everything that's been going wrong and ask for His help to get over it. I cannot say that I've recovered from my depression; my recent blog entries attest to that. But if there's one thing that's stuck to my mind from all those therapy sessions years ago, it's that recovery doesn't happen in the blink of an eye. It can 113 | F i r e l i g h t

take a long time, possibly even a lifetime. (Case in point: the man from the Gospel passage above.) So long as the Lord is with me, though, I think I can plod along with a smile on my face and hope in my heart.

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Nigella and Me
Even as a kid, I was never really the sort you would refer to as skinny. However, I wasn't even particularly fat, either. To put it bluntly, I would say I was somewhere in between. However, even that is a matter of perspective. I inherited my father's heavy bone structure and, alas, my maternal grandmother's curvaceous figure. If I were, say, five or so inches taller, I'd qualify as an Amazonian beauty. Unfortunately, I'm only five-foot-two-and-a-half; that I'm not particularly athletic either doesn't bode too well for Amazonian ambitions, ne? It is not easy being an overly voluptuous woman at this point in time. Despite the growing emphasis on maintaining healthy, natural figures as opposed to stick-thin androgyny, people still make fun of me for being Botticelli's Venus or a Rubenesque damsel amidst all the scrawny Paris Hilton / Lindsay Lohan / Nicole Richie clones. (Damn it, ladies: eat something, for the love of all that is sacred!) Of course, they laugh at me - up until the time I show how much smarter I am than most of them or up until the time I have them stuffing their faces with one or another of the decadent baked things I've been blessed to have the talent to whip up. (Incidentally, you must have some of my potentially addictive quadruple chocolate cake and put some flesh on your bones...) I am grateful for positive role models like Nigella Lawson who has singlehandedly made baking and curvaceousness sexy again. I remember buying her book How to be a Domestic Goddess at a time when a truly boorish boyfriend dumped me; I found comfort and encouragement in her words. Far from hating myself because I didn't party like the girl my ex replaced me with, I actually grew to like the fact that I had the old-fashioned skills, the actual knack for baking and cooking that most women in these harried times have lost. I learned to channel my anger into kneading bread dough and rolling pie crusts. I re-learned the value of perseverance by cooking a dish again and again until I got it right and added my own personal stamp to it. Plus, I also realized that Nigella herself was like me: a woman whose body was magnificently fleshy, curved and dimpled in the most appealing places. It amused and fascinated me to no end that men actually found this mountain of a woman seductive and almost infiinitely desirable. I could identify with her greediness, her gluttony; the way she scarfed down food with lustful abandon. (I could also identify with the state of untidiness her kitchen, pantry, and library always seemed to be in. However, that's a story for another day.) Frankly, though, I doubt if anyone will ever consider me as appealing as La Lawson. In fact, I was telling my mother the other evening that I'm the ugliest of her three children. (My mother vehemently denies this. Let us be honest, though, and state quite plainly that mine is a face only my parents could love.) However, I am proud of the fact that my vital statistics are the envy of most women at work (and my waist is quite small considering my weight), my complexion remains beautifully clear, and many people are actually shocked when I tell them how old I am. (I'm thirty-two; I never lie about my age.) 115 | F i r e l i g h t

And while I'm starting to believe that I'm going to be an old maid, my father tells me that I'd make some lucky guy a great wife someday. (Ah, the loyalty of fathers to their offspring!) For one thing, I can cook ("Unlike," Dad would declare scornfully, "all your cousins who wouldn't know one end of a ladle from the other..."); for another, I'm supposed to be built like a brick house. Some guys actually find that combination sexy, so I'm told. Add the fact that I have a brain between my ears and my father thinks whosoever lands me is in for a major treat. Sometimes - no, make that, most of the time - I wish my dad was right about that.

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All Women are Sisters
I spent my college years at the Philippine Women's University, the first university for women in Asia founded by Asians. My alma mater has, alas, deteriorated over the years, but nevertheless it will always have a special place in my heart. Why? Apart from guiding me in the intricacies of the craft from whence I earn my bread and butter, it was also the place where I learned that there was more to being a woman than just staying beautiful for the boys. In the summer term between my freshman and sophomore years at the University, I took up a class coded as GESS 216 - known more colloquially as Women in Society. Our professor did not do the usual run of lectures and quizzes. Instead, she had us write essays every single day of the term on how we perceived women in modern Philippine society. Coming from a family where women were both seen and heard, my essays had a decidedly sharp bent to them. I wrote of how I hated Filipino soap operas where the heroines were beaten, slapped around, and abused to within an inch of their lives. I couldn't stand Philippine cinema's need for catfights and such throwaway lines as the classic "You're nothing but a second-rate, trying-hard copycat!" We had, at the time, already had one female president (Corazon Aquino) and a number of female senators who had earned the respect of the people - why couldn't fictional heroines be more like them rather than the weepy-eyed milksops on both the small and silver screens? Where were the Gabriela Silangs, the Trinidad Tecsons, the Melchora Aquinos, even Josefa Llanes-Escodas of my generation? As time went by, we went on outreach programs to places like The Haven in Alabang, a sort of nursing home / halfway house for battered women. When we started shooting documentaries for our Radio-TV and Media Application classes, we were exposed to the plight of squatter wives, of blue-collar working women, even of bar girls and hookers who plied their trades in the old Tourist Belt in Ermita. Most of these women were broken by poverty; many of them came from farms in the provinces. They came to Manila in the hope of finding better lives. Alas, what many of them got were abusive husbands and lovers, pregnancies that came one after another, the harrowing squalor of impermanent shelters in slums and garbage dumps. Some were lured to the city by illegal recuiters who promised them glamorous jobs in showbusiness but ended up turning them into prostitutes in cheap, shady brothels instead. Others fled from fathers who beat them or mothers who tried to marry them off under the most spurious circumstances. To my much younger mind, still rather fresh from a Catholic high school, it all seemed like an unending litany of horrors. I remember my uber-feminist scriptwriting professor Janet Tauro railing against these abuses against women. She encouraged us to write about their experiences, 117 | F i r e l i g h t

to tell the world about their plight. She said that, as writers, we had a moral responsibility to our sisters - for all women are sisters in one way or another. We had to make sure that society never forgot about them. That people would be made aware of what they'd gone through. That we were to help them in any way that we could. It has been over a decade since I left school. In the dozen years that followed, I met women of substance and women of power. Great beauties - supermodels, beauty queens, glamorous film stars - and political mavens, businesswomen, fine teachers, all experts in their respective trades. But, for every great woman, hundreds more are still being beaten, hundreds slave away in badly kept factories, and still more are trafficked in the grim world of the flesh trade. I wish people would open their eyes to the truth, other women most especially. We are all sisters. What have you done for your sisters lately?

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Confessions of a Culinary Late Bloomer
I find it funny - yet touching at the same time - whenever people tell me I ought to start selling the stuff that I bake. For one thing, I still stand in awe of people like my godmother, Ella Fuentes-Dimalanta, who can turn home baking from a hobby into a lucrative business. For another thing, people don't seem to believe me whenever I tell them I didn't really learn how to bake till after I'd graduated from college! It's true, though: I was already in my early twenties when I was finally able to whip up batches of cookies or a pan of cake without either maternal intervention or making a complete and utter disaster. I've always liked food. Mom used to tell me that I was never a fussy feeder even as a kid; that I quickly progressed from breast milk to infant formula to Cerelac to several different varieties of Gerber baby food (to this day, Mom reminds me I liked turkey best) until the day came when I could sit at the table, propped up by a pile of cushions, and eat the same stuff my parents were having for dinner. Dad attributes this gustatory precociousness to both the Chinese and Kapampangan genes I got from his side of the family. My mother, however, begs to differ, citing her mother's love of good food as the reason why started eating solid foods so early. It also meant that I was easier to feed than my brother who only ate ham, bacon, and Kentucky Fried Chicken (and mind you, it was just the skin he wanted) until the day he entered the seminary where his eating habits changed forever. But, that's a story for another day... Anyway, the fact that I liked food and was always keen to try something new was good enough. Unfortunately, if one loves to eat, one must eventually learn how to cook. To put it frankly, I tried to learn how to cook in the same way I learned how to read: by watching the legendary Nora Daza on her show Cooking it Up with Nora and Stephen Yan on Wok with Yan. When that didn't work, I tried reading every cookbook in my Lola Mama's library and every single one in my mother's own collection. Ate Sion, our nanny who's still with us even after nearly three decades, taught me the rudiments of sauteeing - and that, alas, was as far as it got. In the Philippine educational system, girls in the fifth and sixth grades and in their freshman year in high school have Home Economics classes. I thought that I'd be able to learn a lot - heck, I even joined the Homemakers' Club for the additional cooking lessons! - but I had a hard time with the way classes were conducted. Cooking was considered groupwork in both grade school and high school. Now, I'm a bit ashamed to admit this, but I've never really been what you'd call a team player especially in the kitchen. And, when you're a student in either one of the two higher 119 | F i r e l i g h t

sections in the level, even the simple act of chopping onions or peeling garlic becomes a privilege, a chance for extra class cred that you'd be willing to trash your best friend for. That said, I felt that I learned nothing at all. [Just an aside: this is one of the reasons why I hate looking back at my childhood. Well, I had a happy childhood, but my elementary and high school days would make a good plot for one of those teen flicks where everyone bullies the weird girl.] I had better luck in college where Home Economics for Seniors was taught to us females in lieu of ROTC. Mrs. Lea Doctor, my professor and one of our fellow parishioners at home, told me I had a good palate: I could tell what tasted good and what needed to be disposed of ASAP. However, she also told me that my baking was a disaster waiting to happen. (Ah, yes... I remember too well the angel's food cake that turned into something even Ol' Nick himself would turn his nose up at!) Again, I felt disheartened. It didn't help either that my hateful paternal grandfather would often insinuate that I would never marry. In her opinion, what man in his right mind would want a woman who couldn't cook? But, like Mikage Sakurai in Banana Yoshimoto's memorable tale Kitchen, I knew that there was only way to learn: I tried to make everything - and bother the fact that it earned me singed eyebrows and burnt fingertips! My work in the kitchen progressed from cakes with scorched bottoms and sunken, molten middles to main courses lacking in seasoning to breads that were stale the second they left the oven. It wasn't easy, it was frustrating. But, unlike in most things, I never felt like giving up. I was so obstinate, so obsessed with getting the recipe just right or making it just a little bit better than the original. It had to taste good and look good. People had to like it. And the day finally came when I got a recipe right. I remember a batch of peanut butter cookies, one of those things that was so simple to make yet I failed time and again to get it right. I remember crossing my fingers as I opened the oven to take out the cookie sheet. Et voila: they were perfectly golden, deliciously aromatic, and had a homey, comforting, salty-sweet flavor that made people grab one cookie after another off the rack even as they cooled. My boyfriend at the time swore by those cookies. He raved about them to friends, he took some home for his mother, and ate as much as he wanted. That particular relationship ended very badly, but I can never forget the glowing compliments and the sheer delight over and about that first batch of properly done cookies. in the years that followed, I learned how to bake bread, cook Filipino staples like adobo (albeit with a Thai twist) and menudo (with an Italian accent), and even decorate cookies for the Holidays. My siblings plead in wheedling tones for me to bake lasagna or moussaka and my sister's friends fought over gingerbread cutouts during the last Holiday season. My officemates swear by my cinnamon rolls and chocolate cake; they badger me for a fresh batch of chocolate chunk cookies from time to time. Of course, I can't claim to know everything. My sponge cakes have the texture of 120 | F i r e l i g h t

Scotch Brite scouring pads and I still haven't gotten over the trauma of using sinigang broth cubes by mistake when I attempted to cook pancit Canton from scratch. (Long story...) There was even a time when I made a pizza and it came out inedible! I still can't make siopao and siomai the way Mom does, nor can I cook paella unaided. However, that doesn't mean I won't try. I like it that I can bake or cook gifts for the people who mean a lot to me as opposed to going to a shop and just picking something off a shelf. I feel that doing so puts a little bit of myself into the gift - be it cake or pie or cookies or even a homemade pasta sauce - and makes it more special. I like picking out ingredients at the supermarket or places like the weekend market in Salcedo Village: I would wonder how this or that person would react to the taste of cardamom in a lemon cookie, a hint of ginger in pork adobo. I'd try Japanese curry cubes in a stew for a family dinner and smile when my relatives demolish a platter filled with my homemade char siu. When I was putting a seal on a canister filled with triple chocolate chunk cookies and lemon-cardamom shortbread for a certain person of my acquaintance a week before last Christmas, I wondered how he would react at what would probably be an unexpected gift. Then, I suddenly stopped what I was doing and laughed as I realized how far I'd come since those first botched attempts at cooking and baking. The kitchen, at the time, was still filled with the tangy scent of lemon, the nutty aroma of cardamom, and that pleasing fragrance emitted by sugar baked with butter. I was tired from the morning's exertions - all that mixing and molding and forming! - but I was happy. It was then that I accepted the fact that not only did I know how to eat, but I also knew how to cook. And I knew how to cook well.

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Reflecting on Job 7: 1-4, 6-7
“Isn’t a man forced to labor on earth? Aren’t his days like the days of a hired hand? As a servant who earnestly desires the shadow, As a hireling who looks for his wages, So am I made to possess months of misery, Wearisome nights are appointed to me. When I lie down, I say, ‘When shall I arise, and the night be gone?’ I toss and turn until the dawning of the day. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, And are spent without hope. Oh remember that my life is a breath. My eye shall no more see good." - Job 7: 1-4, 6-7 The phrase The dark night of the soul is one known to both Catholics and nonCatholics alike, seeing how it is the title of a classic book on spiritual desolation and emotional loneliness written by the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross. I do not know if this is true, but it has been said that John of the Cross was inspired by both his own personal miseries and the Biblical Book of Job when he wrote his book. Then again, it is my personal opinion that reading Job during one's darkest hours can become a particularly uplifting experience. I was listening to the First Reading at Mass yesterday and the poignant way Job lamented about his current state of being made me think of how I felt these past few weeks. Like Job in the passage, I would often lie awake at night and wonder if everything that happened during the day was just a dream - a very bad dream. I wondered if I would ever wake up from the nightmare; sometimes, I would ponder 122 | F i r e l i g h t

about not waking up at all if it meant that I would be spared from yet another miserable day. As the days passed, it seemed as if the hours just flew by without me being able to do anything constructive or meaningful for the day. I felt that I had been reduced to an automaton: a machine programmed to do certain repetitive tasks without it being appreciated by those around it. Paranoia began to set in and I really felt as though I didn't have any hope left; it was all gone and I was worthless. When one feels as if he or she is being pushed against a wall, surrounded in a way that one is left without any escape routes, it is easy to believe that one has been abandoned by everyone including the Lord. Both Scripture and numerous spiritual reflections, however, remind us time and time again that all is not lost. In a spiritual context, the trials one experiences are but a refining fire that is meant to burn away one's imperfections, leaving at the last purity and goodness. John of the Cross put it quite succinctly in the final chapter of the first part of The Dark Night of the Soul. One verse, in fact, stands out, taking its cue from Ecclesiastes 34: 9-10: God generally sends these storms and trials in this sensory night and purgation to those whom he will afterward put in the other night - although not all pass on to it so that thus chastised and buffeted, the senses and faculties may gradually be exercised, prepared, and inured for the union with wisdom that will be granted there. For if a soul is not tempted, tried, and proved through temptations and trials, its senses will not be strengthened in preparation for wisdom. It is said therefore in Ecclesiasticus: He who is not tempted, what does he know? And he who is not tried, what are the things he knows? Remember how Job's sufferings came about? The Devil simply wanted to see how far the man's faith went - but, oh, the horror of it all! The man lost virtually everything: every coin to the last penny, all his livestock, his beautiful house, and to add brutal insult to injury - all his children. Yet, the man stood firm: he kept his faith in the Lord. He knew that the Lord would never forsake him no matter how bad things got. Job survived the worst of his trials - and got back everything he lost in the end. I am grateful at this point in time that the Lord answered the prayers I cried to Him during the darkest hours of the past few weeks. Quite recently, someone threw me a well-needed lifeline that has - so far - kept me from falling into the worst sort of despair. There are new opportunities now, new possibilities just waiting to unfold. I am still unaware of where this current path will take me; only the Lord knows that, of course. But I place myself in His Hands now, and say with all my heart, soul, and being: I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. - Job 42:2

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On Cirilo Bautista: Family Friend, Uncle of Sorts, Mentor…
The collage pictured above was given to my mother as a housewarming gift when we moved from Manila to Muntinlupa in 1984. "What's it supposed to be?" I asked my mother while she sought a blank patch of wall where she could hang the piece, cumbersome frame and all. "What do you think it is?" she said, replying to my question with another question. "It's a typewriter!" I declared. My mother laughed and told me it was supposed to be a ship with a couple of tugboats alongside. However, some years later, I realized that my first guess was not too far from the truth because the person who made the collage was a writer and teacher by profession. The artist was a man named Cirilo F. Bautista. *** The Bautistas have been a part of my family's extended circle since even before my parents were married. Tita Rosemarie, Tito Cirilo's wife, was a member of the faculty at the Philippine School of Interior Design (PSID) along with my mother and has been one of Mom's closest friends for many, many years. While my brother and I were growing up, Mom used to take us along to PSID where we were exposed to the intricacies of art, design, and - in my case - poetry. Tito Cirilo was always sending copies of his books and my mother - a pragmatic woman who believes that the only way to say something is to say it outright sans 124 | F i r e l i g h t

drama - was forever telling him to "write something people can understand!" One of my earliest memories involves trying to decipher the verses in Telex Moon, the second volume of his award-winning Trilogy of Saint Lazarus. My parents were amused by the faces I pulled as I tried my darndest best to find meaning in what appeared to be randomly written words. The poor dears, alas, did not know that I was already on the garden path towards becoming a writer myself. *** In the years that followed my days of face-pulling over unintelligible verses, I: * Received a typewriter for a birthday present; * Joined the school paper; * Published a poem in Teen Magazine; * Got bullied by everyone at my oh-so-snottily-suburban school; * Learned how to use a word processor (Wordstar 3, 4, 5, and 6; WordPerfect 5.0); and * Fell in love and got my heart broken several times. And in December during my eighteenth year, Tito Cirilo sent me an invitation to join the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center's young writers' workshop in Baguio. It was an amazing experience: it was the first time my work was read by real writers - published writers, those who had books out and had won awards both here and abroad. It was during this time that I first felt appreciated; people were actually telling me to keep on writing! It was a fun weekend; I exchanged points of view with other young writers from different schools and was asked for my opinion about their work even as they commented on mine. Writers Juaniyo Arcellana and Lakangiting Garcia took the lot of us over to Baguio’s famed Café by the Ruins for tapuy (Ifugao rice wine, like sake but more fiery), shiitake mushroom tempura, and an evening of live, free-verse poetry read or recited around the café’s dap-ay (fire pit). We attended a Christmas party at a boarding school run by the Brahma Kumaris group and explored the city, seeing it through the eyes of our artistic and literary mentors rather than as a bunch of Manila-born and –bred college kids. More than that, it was a time of selfdiscovery, a time when one’s talents were bared for all to see. After a quietly uttered impromptu poem about the July 16th earthquake that shook Baguio to its very foundations, our mentors took one look at me and pegged me down for a poet. "You have a gift for poetry," Tito Cirilo told me as we all stepped out for a bit of fresh air. I remember that all the sunflowers growing inside the Teachers' Camp were in full, glorious bloom. The crisp, cool mountain air, the huge sunflowers, and the company I was in had made me extemporize and I was uttering verses with glee. "No, I don't," I remember contradicting him. "I just play with words because no one else wants to come out and play."

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He just laughed and shrugged and told me that it was a gift that would stay with me and would manifest itself sooner or later. "Just be sure it doesn't become a monkey on your back," he advised me soberly. *** I graduated from college a couple years after that Baguio sojourn and I threw myself into the business of writing ad copy, scripts, speeches, and what-not. I wrote short stories and story concepts and the essay that earned me the ire of convent-bred queenlets across the archipelago. And Tito Cirilo would ask "But where's the poetry? Where's the lyricism? Where's the beauty of your words?" Truth be told, I could not - I did not have the heart to - tell him that something died in me over the years. Or so I thought until recently... *** Just this Saturday, I trekked all the way from my home in the southern suburbs to the Bautistas' charmingly old-school house in Sta. Mesa Heights all the way in Quezon City. Why? I wanted my old mentor to look over a manuscript I compiled over the past ten months, poems I posted on my blog. I nearly turned tail and gave up because I - grief and circumstance! - got lost. My mother told me the house was on the corner of Kanlaon and Mayon Streets; it turned out to be on the corner of Kanlaon and Maria Clara - several blocks away! (And to think I've always prided myself on being a no-fail navigator!) And so, I found myself before the russet gate, trembling in my strappy-sneaks and wondering if this whole adventure-of-sorts was worth going through, and was welcomed with hugs into the sanctuary within. Tito Cirilo and Tita Rose looked older than when I last saw them, but the friendliness was unmistakable. I was ushered into a quaint, old-fashioned sitting room smelling of old, well-read and loved books, the place already decorated for the Holidays. Tita Rose accepted the fruit I brought them as a gift (well, more like an offering from a trembling literary supplicant!) and left me with Tito who took one look at the red Morocco folder I handed him and said "You've been busy, haven't you?" To have a nine-time Palanca Award-winning author tell you that you've been busy may not mean much to most people, but it certainly meant a great deal to me. As Tito flipped through the poems in the manuscript, he had several comments to make: “Computer poetry! You used the formatting thingamajig in your word processor to create this format! Try to let the words guide you as to how they should be formed.” When I told him the poems were meant to represent needles: “Well, it’s all very well and good – but you know you’ll be bucking trends with this format of yours.” 126 | F i r e l i g h t

“Love poems, I see!” Then he proceeded to tell me about how love poems are, essentially, an old tale told over and over but from different perspectives over time. He spoke of Shakespeare and how the Bard of Avon’s sonnets were actually a chronicle of his many love affairs, most of which ended tragically. As far as Tito Cirilo was concerned, the poet who is serious about writing verses on love should write them with such a passion so as to become memorable, so that the poems could stand the test of time long after the love has faded or the author long buried beneath the sod. He looked at the title of the manuscript. “And who,” he inquired, “is this wandering muse of yours? Anyone we know? And does he know?” To this, I stammered that the muse in question didn’t know (hasn’t a clue, as far as I’m concerned!) and would probably kill me if he found out. “The circumstances are all against me,” I remarked morosely at the end of my confession. “Use the words,” Tito advised me. “Use the words and plot some better tactics; an inventive young woman like you ought to know what to do. If you think he’s worth the aggravation – and I can see that he is given the output! – then do not lose heart. Use the words which are your greatest strength.” He smiled and then, “In the meantime, keep writing – but keep reading, too! Expand your horizons; there are many female poets worth reading out there, not just Maya Angelou.” (He said this because I admitted I was a Maya Angelou fan.) There was a faraway look in his eyes as he said, “The whole world is your subject. Try to write about different things, see things in a different light and your work will improve.” He told me my work was still raw but it was written with passion, that it had a soul. He told me to submit my work to the Philippine Graphic, the Free Press, the Sunday magazines of the major broadsheets. He told me to have my manuscript read by people who understood the process, the emotional investment involved in writing. Keep writing… Use the words… *** As I write this, Tito Cirilo’s words ring in my ears, in my heart, mind, and soul. I write from within the four confining walls of my office cubicle, but while my physical body is stuck here, my brain is all over the place and exploring so many new things. It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already getting to be a trying week for me. Nobody seems to take me seriously at work. My aunts are all telling me to give up on love. My body is screaming for me to get some rest. My own family doesn’t seem to be supportive of my work, the poems I’ve sent out for beta-reading, the manuscript I hope to publish. But even as the tears run down my face and my fingers falter on the keyboard, I take Tito Cirilo’s words to heart:

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I will keep on writing no matter what happens. I will use the words, use the talent I have within me to win that which my heart yearns for the most.

Eshet Chayil: On Women of Valor
I confess that, despite being baptized into the ranks of those saved by the Blood of Christ (and one with a priest for a brother and a family that actively does church work), I didn't get into the habit of reading the Bible until about a month ago. During a personal crisis that came close to me taking my own life, some of my more devout friends and mentors (both Christians and hardline Catholics) told me to try and read a chapter a day from the Gospels, a Psalm, and a chapter from the Book of Proverbs. Trust me: it helped in a major way. But even before these daily readings, I had a favorite passage from the Old Testament that made a significant mark on me way, way back when I was nineteen. The passage is actually the latter half of the final chapter of the Book of Proverbs - Proverbs 31:10-31, as a matter of fact. In Hebrew, it is referred to as Eshet Chayil, in English, it is popularly known as The Woman of Valor. 128 | F i r e l i g h t

It is such a beautiful passage that I have chosen to share it here: A woman of valor who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. Whenever I read it, I think of all the women who have had a significant impact in my life. There's my mother, that amazing woman who gave birth to me, the one who nurtured me and who still, after the passage of over three decades, hasn't completely lost her mind with all the madness that went on while my siblings and I were growing up. How could I forget Mom's mother, my amazing Lola Mama? How can I forget all the stories of what happened during the war, of her daughter Josephine who died in infancy, of her many travels, of her struggle to bring up seven children whilst her husband was away on one business trip or another? Of my mother's four sisters, it is the younger three for whom I have the greatest 129 | F i r e l i g h t

respect. (The eldest of the four? Well, I think I've already told the tale of an aunt who took advantage of a niece's naivete...) Tita Anne - my Tita Mommy - mothered me to an extent before she left for the States and still gives me advice via email from time to time. Tita Ging taught English at UP-Diliman and is partly responsible for the public speaking style that helped me win my way through numerous competitions in high school and college. And, of course, there's my madcap Tita Vicki who's only twelve years older than me, is in theatre, gives killer massages, and has pop-diva looks. Ging and Vicki, in particular, were more like sisters to me whilst I was growing up. I remember my teachers: Tina Presa from my year in Prep who discovered that I came to her class already literate, Avel Cristobal-Ocampo who called me "Meg" because that was the nickname of the eldest sister in Alcott's Little Women. (She thought the nickname suited me for some obscure reason.) Ofel Anda was the one who gave the assignment that forever opened the Pandora's Box of writing for me back in the fourth grade; Lita Abot, my sixth-grade adviser, was the one who consoled me on the day I came to school in tears because my beloved maternal grandmother died so far away in California. And there were the women who spurred me to keep on writing even when I was on the verge of giving up the ghost during my high school days: Wria Lamug who was our adviser for The Abbey, Hortencia Marzan who told me when I was fourteen that she was proud that I could actually write, and Thelma Sayson who was completely unperturbed by the fact that I wrote a treatise on film and adolescent behavior for a junior-year term paper. In college, I was blessed to find myself under the guidance of our then-director for student affairs, Dr. Cindy Dollente-Ang (who eventually moved to Trinity College the year before I graduated) and Janet Tauro, the irascible, no-nonsense, hard-line perfectionist / feminist / confidante of half-a-dozen PR majors. Dr. Ang taught me that true leadership didn't come from standing at the helm, but by working heart and soul alongside the rest of the team to get the job done. Bruhang Kumander Janet, on the other hand, is the reason why I developed an OC thing with regard to writing and editing. Truth be told, on days when I feel like I'm at my worst, I can hear her strident voice at the back of my mind screaming, "MANLAPIG! ANO KA BA?! IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO?!?" (And people wonder why I have issues regarding grammar, spelling, and context. Now you know...) My kid sister Isabelle is another woman of whom anyone could be proud of. She's only eighteen, but is already displaying a talent for writing high fantasy that can put the likes of Christopher Paolini to shame and is also a gifted illustrator. The fact that she's my partner in crime for numerous weekend romps in Little Tokyo and elsewhere shows you how close we are - despite the fact that I'm fourteen years older. 130 | F i r e l i g h t

Of the many friends I've made over the years, three strike me as the most wonderful, most exemplary women I know. There are the women I privately refer to as the Nixies, because they're both nicknamed Nix - Lara Garcia and Nicole CueNicolas. The former is a sister in faith, one who has gone through a great deal in life but has remained strong in heart and spirit. The latter was a colleague during my short stint at Trend, but has - amazingly - become one of the closest friends I have ever had. I am grateful to them both for helping keep my sanity every time things go absolutely mad, mad, mad. There's Connie Vivero-Luayon who was a schoolmate in PWU and a co-editor for The Philwomenian. I haven't seen her in the longest time, though we do keep in touch via Multiply. Connie is one of those rare people who can see both sides of me at any given time and, though we hadn't seen each other in ages, was sweet enough to drop me a line when I was ready to throw in the towel. There are a number of other women who have played significant roles in my life, but I can't mention them all and all the good they've done in one sitting. Nevertheless, I feel so blessed that they've all been a part of my life. These are the women, those modern embodiments of the Biblical passage. They may not all be homemakers, some are even spinsters, but all of them do their best to nurture their families and the people around them in the best manner possible. I thank God for them, these women of valor.

Writing and Me
Someone recently asked me about why I chose to become a writer - of all things! rather than anything else. Well, there was a time in my life when I could have done something else. Believe it or not, I actually planned to study medicine. Seriously! 131 | F i r e l i g h t

However, when I got wait-listed for UP-Manila's Physical Therapy program and my father refused to let me sit for the entrance exams at the University of Santo Tomas ("Do you really want to wade through the floods there?" he asked. "I refuse to buy you the necessary SCUBA gear!"), the possibility of playing to my strengths and studying writing for real opened up for me. But I'm getting way ahead of my story here... I was ten years old and in the fourth grade when our homeroom adviser, Mrs. Ofel Anda, instructed us to create something that would say something about ourselves. Most of my classmates decided to draw self-portraits of themselves and this left me in a quandary because, as stated here, I can't draw. Well, stick figures, yes; but anything else would look like a shrink's Rorshach inkblot. So, what was a girl to do? I wrote a poem: When I think about all All about myself, I think of fairies And a small elf… I seriously wrote a poem - one that followed the highly basic ABCB rhyming style, one that sounded like a nursery rhyme when read aloud. But, you know what? It worked, I was able to express myself in words rather than images. Because I couldn't draw or paint, I used my pen to draw images - not on paper nor on canvas, but directly onto the mind of the reader. It was a thrilling realization, but a frightening one at the same time. Thrilling because it helped me discover that I had a talent for putting words together; frightening because it opened a Pandora's box of horrors that lasted until the end of my stay at Benedictine Abbey School. You see, it was bad enough (to my peers) that I was the bookish one with the volatile temper; it was worse because writing was [in the late 1980s to the early 1990s] not exactly what people expected average ten-year-old girls to do. However, since the dam was irreparably broken, I went on writing. I worked for the school paper in both high school and college. In the process, I was just amazed at how words could bring things and people together or rend them apart in the most horrific manner possible. I wrote poetry for the paper, essays in class, did a bit of news reporting from time to time, coined captions and catchphrases - it was all so amazing. In the process, I learned that, unlike the visual artist who imposes his visions on people, the writer as an artist describes a scene to the reader who can later close his eyes and envision the scene in his own mind based on his own impressions. They say creativity begets creativity, and I think writing not only opens the door for the writer but also those for his or her readers into a completely new world. Having worked in several fields over the years has exposed me to different writing disciplines used for various purposes. Journalism taught me how to strip things down to the bare facts and to go beyond the mere act of informing people and into making them take a stand over one issue or another. Development communication, on the other hand, exposed me to governments and aid institutions, to writing barebones documentaries that changed the way people looked at the world. Advertising 132 | F i r e l i g h t

and public relations writing showed me how to teach old dogs new tricks: how classic products could be made to look absolutely new by a few well-turned words and phrases. Technical writing and editing, coupled with my year or so of teaching, enabled me to show readers how to do certain things, to understand certain concepts. My work in the fields of cinema and animation opened my mind to the creation of various concepts for both the big and small screens. Paul Daza, then creatives director for NEO Films, was the one who showed me the proper form used for submitting storylines to the bigger studios. "But that's just form," he said. "The content, my dear, should come entirely from you." I learned the hard way in those six months at NEO that I had - at the time - neither the drive nor the talent to write romantic flicks, but I did have a flair for writing science-fiction and high fantasy tales. Later on, during the dark times when I tried to get into the bigger world of the Asian animation scene, I began to veer away from those themes and went into grittier, more realistic realms. It hasn't all been fun and games, though. I've had editors from hell over the years and I worked with some complete bastards who tried to edge me out of creative endeavors, but that's nothing compared to the way one of my aunts took credit for everything I wrote. From 1993 to 1996, my years in college, an aunt of mine who worked in broadcasting got me to write some scripts for PTV-4, the government channel. She said it would be good exposure for me in the way the industry worked and it was. However, when it came to getting paid and taking credit, I discovered much later that she took all the credit; it was her name that appeared as scriptwriter on each and every single script that was produced by the network. It came as a shock; I couldn't believe my own flesh and blood would screw me over in such an underhand manner. The shock was so bad that I began to have second thoughts about writing professionally. I prayed for the strength to pull myself back together and, mercifully, I was able to get up and go. People have asked me time and again where I get my ideas or how I think up my scenarios. The answer is very simple: my life is interesting enough as it is, so I use certain facets of it in my work. The base premise for No Need for Normalcy! is a case in point; those who are close to me are aware that certain sequences actually did happen in real life. My poetry is influenced by my moods and how I'm affected by the world around me; of course, lately, you may have noticed that it's been love that's been driving me to write, and write, and... Will I ever stop? Well, there were times when I was so disappointed with myself that I didn't want to go on. But, I don't really know... Writing is a God-given talent that I first resented and eventually became grateful for. So, until the good Lord Himself tells me to drop the pen or put away the keyboard, I'll keep on writing.

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Remembering My Grandmother
You, dear reader, are probably wondering what the torta de Cebu shown above has to do with Todos los Santos or the Feast of All Saints. Well, it has something to do with the fact that this sort of cake is tied in with someone who I miss very dearly: my maternal grandmother, the late Francisca Esperas-Kagawan who passed on ten years ago. People who have met either my mother or myself (sometimes both of us) tell us "Oh, you're quite a character!" You know the sort: strong-willed, rather quirky, moody sometimes (well, often in my case), but always hospitable and friendly. Well, they never met my Lola Mama; the woman was always a law onto herself. She was one of the great beauties of Tacloban City in her youth, a much-sought after belle who just so happened to be the daughter of the provincial governor. She loved to sing and dance; she was crazy about the movies. From the stories told by her sisters, my great-aunts, my Lola was rather popular and had many friends as a child and suitors as a young lady. However, the popularity was not enough to dispel her frustration about not being allowed to push her education after the fifth grade. It wasn't a lack of money that kept her out of school, but her mother was a dreadful old biddy who said "If you know how to read love letters, then you're done with school" - obviously, she was no great fan of education. Throughout her life, my grandmother made it a point to read everything she got her hands on; it was as if she wanted to compensate for what had been denied to her. It was my great-grandmother who cast a pall over what should have been an idyllic childhood. Lola, and my mom after her, told me that great-grandmother was a heavy drinker, a gambler, and the sort who spoiled her sons and neglected her daughters. Lola used to say that the whole lot of them would have starved to death if an aunt hadn't been there to see to them; great-grandmamma was that neglectful a parent. During the war, a runty Army conscript was billeted in the Esperas home, a runaway from Pangasinan who joined the war effort to get back at his tyrannical family. He looked none too promising at first, but Lola took a shine to the fellow and eventually married him. Apparently, she made a good choice as her young man eventually rose in the ranks of the Philippine Air Force, joined the diplomatic service, became presidential economic adviser to Macapagal and Marcos, and was director of the Southeast Asia Technical Advisory Council. He took her on trips to every part of the world, gave her lavish gifts, and treated her like a queen. When my grandfather died in 1988, Lola was inconsolable for the next ten years. Lola loved to cook; she was very good at it and having seven children allowed her to 134 | F i r e l i g h t

indulge her passion for trying out one recipe after another. When I was a child, she would regale me with tales of this or that dish, go through the pages of all the cookbooks - hers and my mother's - we had, and we'd watch cooking shows on TV. Her torta - a magnificently buttery cake baked in fluted tins and dusted with sugar was her piece de resistance and her children clamored for it whenever they could. Alas, she was not one to write down her signature recipes. Like most old-school cooks, she was rather secretive about her specialties and, alas, she took the secret of her magnificent torta to the grave. Even in her twilight years, she still looked fabulous. Her curly hair was silvery white and was always neatly coiffed even if she was at home. Her skin remained magnificently clear, making her Castillian features shine even more. Lola wore elegant batik caftans at home, those little souvenirs she got whenever she and Lolo Papa needed to stay in Singapore and Malaysia for long periods of time. Whenever she went out, she was always dressed in her very best with the right fragrance and the right jewelry. People always wondered if she was a socialite (quite true, as she was a diplomat's wife) or an actress from the golden years of LVN and Sampaguita Pictures. When she died in 1998 - at dawn on her 73rd birthday - we laid her in her casket in a white dress and her coral jewelry: still fabulous-looking. It could have been a trick of the light, but one of her perfectly groomed eyebrows was raised as if to say: "See? You can take your good looks to the grave! Take that, you peasants!" I remember how much she loved me, her eldest grandchild. She always thought I was the most wonderful little girl - even when I behaved like a little barbarian. She made me feel special even when everyone else - especially the kids at school - told me I was worth nothing. She would hug me with those plump arms of hers, and I would feel safe. In her eyes, I was beautiful despite the thick glasses and frumpy clothes I wore as a teenager. She wanted me to study medicine, but was as proud as Lucifer when I got my degree in Public Relations. She always believed I would go on to do great things; I still hope that time would prove her right. Lola has been gone ten years, but - in some ways - I feel she's still with me in one way or another. Her buxom figure skipped a generation and is now reflected in my own shape (a 1.5-liter bottle of Coke made flesh). I inherited her insatiable thirst for learning, her liking for the printed word. Her tales about her favorite dishes and our romps through the pages of cookbooks have paid off and - though I'll never be a professional chef - I pride myself on my work in the kitchen. I also got her love for quirky brooches and chunky faux necklaces, and shades of red and green look as good on me as they did on her. I've been told I even inherited her temperament: volatile when riled, sullenly sulky when disappointed, tear-sodden when upset, but gloriously warm and laughter-filled when happy. One of my favorite childhood memories involves my grandmother. When I was seven and we were spending my summer vacation in Europe, we went to Rome and headed to the Vatican to hear Mass. Lolo and my Tita Ging joined the crowd in St. Peter's Square and insisted that Lola and I stay in the tour bus lest either of us got too tired. I was squirming in my seat, but Lola smiled and pointed out the window to a man in white waving from a window somewhere in the Basilica. "See that?" she said. "That's Pope John Paul!" 135 | F i r e l i g h t

I scrambled over to where my grandmother was sitting and stared pop-eyed and gaping at someone whom I'd only seen on television and in magazines. We actually saw him and saw the Pope smile - something neither my grandfather and aunt could see from where they stood in the crowd. Years later, when Lola suffered her final illness in the hospital, I sat by her bedside and promised her we'd go back to Rome, we'd see the Pope in person again. "And we can go back to Lourdes," she whispered back with a small smile. "And go to Fatima afterwards. Then on to Spain and back to Italy and France." She loved to travel (I got the travel bug from both her and Lolo) and I couldn't blame her for wanting to return to the places she loved the most, to eat the nicest things, dance the night away, and warble to the most romantic ballads. (The Visayan classics Usahay and Matud Nila were her favorites.) How was I supposed to know that she would make her final journey two days after my visit. It's been ten years and I still miss that wonderful, loving, dynamic woman. I haven't found a torta recipe to match hers, so my torta fix is always store-bought. But every time I take a bite, I murmur a prayer of thanks that there was someone in my life who was like torta for my hungry soul: forever sweet and eternally comforting. Wherever you are, Lola, I love you and I miss you dearly.

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Acceptance: Some Thoughts on Death, Faith, and Community
The night of October 15th, some college classmates and I were all online and quietly discussing what would eventually be the very last status update regarding Noralyn Mendoza-Lina. As of nine that evening, Maureen, her best friend from college, relayed a message from the family: "Hinihintay na lang namin na magstop ang heartbeat nya. Kasi respirator na lang ang nagpapahinga sa knya, heart na lang nya ang nag pa function sa kanya..." The mood online was appropriately somber and, while many of us haven't spoken to each other since we graduated in 1997, it was as if the years no longer mattered. We were classmates again, bound as we were by a common grief, a mutual impending sorrow. "It's all happening so fast," we said. "What happened?" we said. "It's too much; we can't take it." That was nothing to what another classmate - now banned from my contacts list because of her churlishness and boorishness - posted the following day: Noralyn is dead. As if that wasn't bad enough, she added a cheeky smiley at the end of the sentence. What the hell?! There is a line in Kitchen, one of my favorite novels, wherein the bar manager Chika mourns the violent death of her friend - and former boss - Eriko. The night Eriko was murdered, Chika was on her night off and was not there to see the tragedy unfold. As a result, she is consumed with guilt for what might have been and the death leaves her in serious doubt about beings more powerful than humanity: ...I'm so miserable. Why do things like this have to happen? I can't believe in the gods. This sort of reaction is consistent with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's Five Stages of Grief:

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Denial We refuse to believe that a loved one is dying or is actually gone. At this specific stage, psychologists say that the human mind is reeling back from the reality that the person has ceased to exist as a corporeal, temporal being. In extreme cases, some people never get past this stage; these are the ones who go mad in the sense that they go on believing that the person is still alive, that the person has simply gone on a trip and will be home soon.

Anger Here is where the finger-pointing, the whole blame-game ensues. Anger is said to give one purpose, to steel one's backbone in the face of one's loss. You blame the doctor, you blame the family, you even blame the deceased for not taking the necessary care. One personal experience of mine revolves around my paternal grandfather: Before Tatay Ponciano died, he lived with my grandmother, his younger brother-in-law, and my two cousins. In 1994, during a storm, Tatay tried to lift his car onto some blocks to keep it above the rising floodwaters. Thanks to my stupid-ass cousin, the car fell and crushed my grandfather's pelvis. He recovered, but he was never the same man up until he died a few years later. When he passed away in early 2003, I was appalled by what happened before his death. For all the solicitous care my father and my aunt gave to their father on their Sunday visits, it was all undone by the horrendous neglect of the people he lived with. If they had taken better care of him instead of playing up their own selfish agendas, Tatay would have lived longer. And trust me: I'm still furious with my grandmother and my two cousins for their neglect. It just isn't forgivable.

Bargaining This is the part where we appeal to God, the part where we tell Him "Why did you take him/her away? She/he had so much to live for!" If you have depressive episodes like I do, the next line would be "You should've taken me instead. I have nothing to live for." But we all know that, in the end, not even the best doctors in the world can cut bargains with the Great Leveller. Which leads us to...

Depression This is the part where we wonder what might have been, where the tears begin to fall, when we feel lost and broken, bereft and separated from everything we know to be good, familiar, and proper. Banana Yoshimoto, author of Kitchen describes it in this beautiful, meaningful passage:

Now I felt really alone, at the bottom of a deep loneliness that no one could touch. People aren’t overcome by situations or outside forces; defeat invades from within… Maybe someday I’d be able to think it over calmly, in a brighter place than this, full of sunlight and flowers. But by then, it would be too late.

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Acceptance With everything said and done, however, accepting the fact that our loved one is gone is the terminal stage of mourning. Psychologists say that once we have accepted this glaring truth, we are ready to go on and go back to normalcy. But let me ask you: do things really go back to normal once we have accepted the truth? Of course not! At the end of it all, things have changed immensely - and all we can do is accept.

One other thing I have learned to accept with regard to dying is the fact that it is not the time to start dabbling in anything outré that can cause serious misunderstandings within a community and may actually be a violation of someone's faith. As Noralyn fought for her life on Thursday, an acquaintance actually chatted me up on Facebook and offered his group's services to pull her back from the brink of the grave. This unsolicited bit really got me angry as this man is the head of a group of occultists who are willing to consort with the elements of darkness to do what has to be done. Admittedly, I personally have the gifts of healing and prophecy to certain limits but to use the darkness to bring back a good Christian woman ~ ?!? Some people are so tactless they'll do anything... I simply thanked him and politely told him to go to hell and take his minions with him. And honestly, I don't know who was a bigger bastard in this case: the tactless classmate or this demon-lord wannabe.

But going back, death sometimes serves as a magnet, pulling back together communities that have lost touch. It is a true thing for the current situation: even though it's only online, I'm actually talking to people I haven't seen or communicated with for over a decade. Death also brings home those abroad and those who have gone astray. Not only is it the Great Leveler, but it also becomes the Great Unifier as it binds those left behind with both grief and love. Saint Pio de Pietrelcina famously stated the words Pray, hope, and don't worry - an apt motto for both mourning and for life in general. We pray, we hope for the best, and we stop worrying because we leave it all up to God, letting His great will, His great plan for each of us be done. And, as we do so, we pray as a community - and accept the fact that things will never be the same again.

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To Sit Down and Sip the Coffee
The trouble with the modern world is that many people - if not all people in urbanized areas - no longer take the time to sit down and savor the simple pleasures of life. Nine times out of ten, people tend to rush to and fro, grabbing sustenance of any form on the run - something to fill the belly without thought to it being healthy or satisfying. As far as communicating with others is concerned, short SMS messages and tweets have taken the place of earnest, face-to-face conversation. We are all so caught up in so many things that we have begun to take for granted the many blessings we have been given. I also take issue with the young people I see in the morning: the ones who speak with loud voices, the ones who try to get themselves roaring drunk at 7:00 AM after a gruelling graveyard shift. They have no respect for the people around them, the ones scandalized by their appalling behavior, their obvious lack of manners. How could they afford to behave so badly at a time when children going to school can see them? Are they so addled by the riches of their jobs and the inherent vices that they fail to become proper examples to the younger generation. It is also deplorable that these people also believe in a culture of indulgence wherein bedhopping, partner-swapping, and all sorts of depravity are considered hip things to do. At the risk of sounding like a prude, all I can say it this: Hang it all;what the hell is this world coming to?!

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I wish people would just take things easy, enjoy things in moderation they way they're supposed to be enjoyed. For those who are always in a hurry:

Take the time to sit down and have a proper meal. Take the time to savor each bite of your food; experience the both the extreme and the subtle differences in flavor, aroma, and texture. Take the time to strengthen your relationships with others. When was the last time you had coffee with friends, when you shared a meal with your family, when you hugged someone? I agree with Terry Pratchett that these truncated messages flying around from one mobile device to another have all the warmth and gentleness of a knife thrown in someone's face. A little warmth never hurt anyone, after all. Slow down! Ever heard of the Japanese word karoshi? It means "death by overwork" - you know the sort: a perfectly healthy salaryman suddenly slumps dead at his desk. While multitasking is a plus in the workplace, ask yourself: Do I need to multitask all the time? Trust me; you'll be better off for doing things a step at a time. Stop and smell the coffee - or the flowers. Or just sit back, relax, and do something you actually love to do.

Now for those hedonists who still believe in the old saw about eating, drinking, and being merry...

Be moderate in your indulgences. Binge drinking, gluttonous eating, and smoking may seem fun right now, but I'd think of my liver and lungs if I were you. Have you ever seen anyone die of cirrhosis, emphysema, or cancer? Believe me: it's not a pretty sight. Be responsible for your actions. In relation to the still-ongoing debate on the Reproductive Health Bill, it isn't so much the distribution of contraceptives that's the issue. It is moral degeneracy. Thanks to the irresponsibility of the media and the behavior of certain public figures, people are made to think that sex is okay - completely forgetting that it's only okay within certain parameters. And if there's anything I hate more than anything in this world, it's a smug idiot who says that sex is free and that nobody cares about love anymore. Yeah, till the said idiot contracts an STD, ends up pregnant, or manifests the signs of AIDS. Jeez... Is your high-paying, graveyard-shifting, "highly exciting" job going to be worth it in the end? Not to knock the BPO sector, but if the related lifestyle is going to kill you in the end, it would be best to start thinking of a different career choice.

Admittedly, I am the sort of Roman Catholic, the sort of Christian who rarely ever opens her Bible. But if there's a set of passages I love, it's 2 Timothy 4:6 - 8 (NIV): For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in 141 | F i r e l i g h t

store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. When the time comes for us to face God, we will not be judged by our accomplishments, our glories, or our contributions to the world around us. The questioning will revolve around how we lived our lives and how we made use of the blessings God gave us. It will be a question of whether or not we lived our lives to the best of our ability. It will be a question of whether or not the lives of others were changed because of their contact with us. It will be a question of whether or not we did fight the good fight. After all, as in sport, the game of life is never about winning: it's about how we play. And, sometimes, the game of life isn't about keeping score, about keeping up with the Joneses, or even about being the best. In the end, life is about appreciating what we have, sharing it with others, and making the best of it all.

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