An odd little tale

My Clarion West Writeathon report came in and I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much I’d raised. I’m releasing another bit of previously unpublished work today in honor of that.

I can be a Rock Star was written back in 2010–I suppose you could call it an experiment in black humor or the unreliable narrator. I really am never sure which one it was. I just wanted to go with the flow and find out where the music would lead and it led to this tale which is somewhat odd. I do hope you’ll enjoy the read.

It is an aswang story of sorts and was great fun to write.

I think the psyche is this wonderful untapped resource and truthfully the line between sanity and madness is quite quite thin. ;p

Thanks for sponsoring the Clarion West Writeathon writers. I hope you all enjoy this odd little offering.

The Communal Experience that is Dance

I attended a wedding yesterday. It was  wedding between two young women who shared Filipino roots and because of their connection to the Filipino community, there were quite a good number of Filipinos present.

There’s a different dynamic to dance when you do it together with those you share a common bond with. Beyond the bond of knowing these two young women and having shared in the ups and downs of their lives, there was also the bond of those of us present as being Filipinos who share a common experience of migration.

In celebrations like these, dance becomes like an act of affirmation. We face each other, we join each other in a circle, we pair off with each other and we dance.

I’ve written dance into a number of stories and in particular,  the significance of the Ifugao dance. In Bagi, these lines embody how I feel when I dance the Ifugao dance, whether it be in the privacy of my own home when my spirit prompts me to engage in it, or whether it is in public when I am asked to demonstrate it or to share it with others.

Bagi isn’t available online, but I wanted to share these words from the work with the reader as it captures the feeling of being a Filipino still reaching and longing and yearning for that connection to home.

On this distant shore, she becomes the earth that is beyond her grasp. Her body is the homeland. Her voice is the song of the wind through stalks of ripening rice. Her arms are the sunrise. She is the harvest. She is the welcome home.   – From Bagi: Ada ti Istorya as published in Bahamut Journal, Issue One

Down Memory Lane

So today has been a day spent sorting through the paper chaos that has piled up through the years. Sometime ago, I just stuffed most of my work into plastic boxes to be sorted through sometime in the future–I never really did get around to doing that until today.

In one of the boxes, I found a number of spiral and bound notebooks from my highschool days. Stories written in longhand which made me laugh. I didn’t realize just how much I’d written back in the day. I’m still looking for the notebook that contains a complete draft of my first attempt at a novel–it was a historical romance, written in long hand over a number of weeks.

In the meantime, I’m sharing a photograph from one of the notebooks. It just tickles my fancy to be able to do that here. I know, the English is flawed, but I was in highschool when I wrote this.

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I think this was a story about a fish. Something I may rewrite for the kids when the mood arises.

New Free Fiction

I did promise that I would post new free fiction and this time, to commemorate the fact that I’ve raised 53 bucks for the Clarion West Write-a-thon, I’m publishing something that’s never been published before. I think I sent this one out once or twice and then forgot about it.

When I wrote The Singing of the whales, the rising of the waters and the harvest of tears, the image in my head was of Roxas Boulevard. When I was still in college, it was part of my daily landscape and there’s a different quality to it at night as compared to during the day. I know it’s considered more dangerous at night, but I remember being stuck there with a friend once while we waited for a taxi or a jeep or just any kind of transport to take us home. Across the street there were a number of bars with neon lights and I always found myself rather curious about them. There was one in particular that drew my attention as there seemed to be a regular jazz band playing.

So, it was that memory that made me think of this story and writing this story felt like dreaming on paper. I didn’t really plan this story to be this way. I was curious. I wanted to follow the opening lines and to find out where they led me. Writing this story was an experiment–whether it’s been successful or not depends on the reader. I do like that the story features sisters and the thing is this: no matter what differences I may have with my sister, I also love her fiercely. So, I suppose it is love story of sorts.

Writing progress

I’ve been working slowly on the Cartographer’s World novel. I have the world so fully formed inside my head that I sometimes feel like I’m walking in that place and introducing people who populate it as well showing out the sights while I’m at it. While Siren from Song of the Body Cartographer plays a major role in this novel, there are other characters who intrigue and catch my attention with their own stories. I should probably start a character chart soon as the world and their stories come out on the bigger canvas. Writing a novel is an immersive and fun experience.

In the meantime, I’ve also been working on two different stories. One which springs from an image of a person looking out towards earth from the viewing deck of a generation ship. It’s a pretty cliched image, I know, but the possibilities that exist there…I found myself thinking of where this person came from and where this person was headed to. I also thought of possible dialogues that were running through this person’s head as the ship draws farther away from earth. This is the first time I’m attempting something like this and I’ll admit it’s a bit daunting, particularly since using the first person pov is something I’m not very good at.

I was prompted too by the thought of what happens when someone is sent into exile where the exile benefits those who are in power. It’s not an easy story to write and I rather hope it ends on a good note.

The second story that I’ve written a draft of is a bit of a fun caper. This one was inspired by a conversation I had with Tade Thompson on family coaches. I meant, the person who helps families restore structure in the family setting but somehow this morphed into something else .It’s a lot of fun and also involves some really cute animals. <g>

I haven’t talked about it on here, but I am participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. I’m hoping to raise at least 200 dollars for Clarion West and have promised to post a previously unpublished short story for every 50 dollars I raise. I’ve just raised my first 50 dollars, so watch this space for a free story soon. I will be sure to post about it on twitter and facebook and will also let my sponsors know that it’s up. Please do check my profile at the Clarion West website. There are lots of other fabulous authors participating, so you can take your pick of who you wish to sponsor.

Finally, I have been sitting on a bit of good news. I received an acceptance for Magnifica Angelica Superable and just sent out the signed contract this week. I had a lot of fun writing Magnifica Angelica. I think I chuckled to myself while writing most of it.

I’m working on updating and revamping the book blog, but will post more about that once things are better in place.

Sharing some goodness

Despite the advent of summer rains, we’ve been having our fair share of sunny days here in The Netherlands. Sunshine is always a good thing–regardless that I tend to get all sneezy and puffy-eyed from hay fever. It’s still good to open the doors wide and to look out at the sunshine. It’s also great to not have to put on a coat each time I leave the house.

My Bahamut Journal author copies arrived in the late part of last week–it’s a pretty slick looking journal and I love being part of this publication. I’m sharing pics here and encouraging folks to go check out Bahamut Journal’s website.

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Bagi, which I wrote about in an earlier blog entry is in this issue. I’m very pleased.

Today, the postman delivered my copy of Wiscon Chronicles 9 edited by Mary Anne Mohanraj.

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I’m delighted to have two of my essays included in this publication–more so because it’s been a dream to be published by Aqueduct press. The pub itself is a beauty and I love that I get to bask in all the non-fiction goodness–challenging and thoughtful work is necessary as we move forward and Aqueduct press continues to be one of my go-to places for thought-provoking reading.

After close to a year of not doing anything much in terms of submission, I’ve gathered up my courage and resumed the task of sending out work again. Getting stories out the door has helped to boost my morale and made me feel like I can do this again.

Sometimes, you cannot speak

because the weight of grief is too heavy for words.

Another rambly post with a word for the journey

This is a rather rambly and somewhat personal post, but I’ve been thinking a lot about things and I’m remembering a day conference I attended where one of the women leaders reminded us that if we’re going to be engaged in social change, we need to bear a number of things in mind. One of these things is a word that I think we all need to carry in our backpacks.

Watchfulness.

We already know that in life, there will always be someone waiting to bring you down. When we’re starting out on the journey, we’re all eager and full of faith. It’s real easy to be made to believe that everyone who claims to be on our side really stands on our side, when the truth of the matter is that each and every person has an own agenda and that agenda may not be the same as the one you carry. I’ve learned the hard way that just because a person uses the right words and claims to stand on the same side, it doesn’t mean that person is someone you can open your heart and your soul to. It doesn’t mean that person is someone who wishes you well.

The thing is, when you’re engaged in struggle, you’re vulnerable too. It’s easy to get sucked into the kind of talk that will derail you from your original purpose. Because we long for companions in the struggle. Because it’s lonely out in the field and it’s hard. It’s even harder if you feel like you’re struggling all alone–like you’re a voice shouting into the void

Watchfulness.

Some people can’t conceive of success that makes room for others to enjoy greater success alongside of you. Some folks can’t understand the joy that comes from seeing people you love receiving praise and accolades. Some folks don’t see how the success of someone else does not diminish your own success. But we who are working for change must keep our eyes focused on the goal. Don’t be distracted by folks to the back or to the front or the side of you. You might share a goal with some folks, but in the work of change, in the work of creation, it’s not a competition as to who gets to reach the goal first.

When you have your eyes fixed on that goal, accolades and praise diminish in importance. What becomes important is that the mission gets accomplished, that we reach change, that we achieve that hoped for state. And maybe you won’t get awards for the work you do, but in the work towards change, awards aren’t a proper measure for the work that is done.

The true measure, the true reward comes when you see change taking place for real.

I keep my eyes fixed on the goal.

Sometimes, when the darkness crowds around me and I’m tempted to lay me down and not rise up again,  I think of all the hands that have lifted me up and of the folks who’ve gathered around me and chanted a mantra of love telling me to keep on writing and I know, I cannot give up. Not ever. I won’t give up until I see each and every one of those I love blossom and reach their full potential.

I don’t know when, I don’t know how the dream of proving Filipinos can write well enough in English morphed into a dream to witness how those who travel alongside me come into their own.

I don’t know when I started dreaming of a future that’s different from the present we occupy. Perhaps it was always there, lurking at the back of my mind, perhaps that dream just blossomed into maturity as I experienced what it’s like to be held up and given wings to find my dream.

My dream is to see more voices rising. To see a field occupied by a multiplicity of voices to see a field where there are no minorities.

Watchfulness.

We move through different stages in life. From not knowing, to slightly knowing, to full knowing. From apathy, to fear, to outrage, to anger, to compassion and understanding what it takes to truly work for change.  Not caring about others that is the most deadly state of all. It means, you lose your ability to feel with, to empathize, to feel deep down to your bones–you lose your soul.

Be watchful of your soul. Be watchful of your heart. No matter how hard or tough or how angry-making the struggle becomes, remain watchful.

When you’re doing the work, you need to accept that not everyone will love you. You need to accept that more folks will hate you than love you. Because who wants the world shaken up and changed? Who wants the world order to be turned upside down on its head?

Working towards change is terrifying work because it can at times feel so gigantic and overwhelming and if you’re invested in it, there will be moments when you’ll go: Oh shit, what was I thinking when I said I would do this? When you work towards change, you need to put your hands to the ground and do the dirty work. You need to invest your time and energy in creating and bringing into being a new world order. That’s not easy work. It’s an investment of time and energy and other resources and you won’t even get headlined or praised for that kind of work.

We’ve been taught to be modest, to erase ourselves, to downplay our ambitions, to keep our heads down. Don’t rock the boat.

So we don’t talk about the vision we hold in us because talking about that vision is terrifying. It’s baring your soul and making yourself vulnerable to arrows and spears. I say: We must not be quiet about the future that we want. We must not be afraid to rock the boat or to put ourselves at risk. Because without vision–without taking that risk, we don’t have a future.  And if we don’t share the vision inside us, we can’t blame folks if the world goes on as it’s always gone. Rock the boat, I say. Do it to the rhythm that beats inside you–to the tune of that song that says: we have big dreams and our dreams have a place in this world. We’re not waiting for permission, we’re taking hold of it. We’re shaping the future we want to see, marching to the tune of a song that belongs to us.

When we speak about diversity and inclusivity, it’s much more than paying bucks for merchandise. When we speak about diversity and inclusivity, it means we invest time, effort, resources in cultivating, nurturing and making sure there are no minorities in the field.

James Baldwin talked about the need to create a country where there are no minorities. We need to do that in this field. We need to show that we stand on the same level–equals in every discourse and we won’t let ourselves be treated as less than equal.

When we talk of change, we’re talking about a vision we share. A vision we want and we need to see become reality. How hungry are we for change? Are will willing to put our money where our mouths are? Are we willing to invest ourselves? Are we willing to put ourselves at risk?

It’s a fearsome thing to propose an end to hierarchies and pyramid structures. It’s a fearsome thing to say, let us all realize the power we hold inside us. It is a fearsome thing, but it is not impossible.

Instead of traditional hierarchies let us bring in horizontal fractals where a multiplicity of voices and a multiplicity of stories abound. Set up institutions with built-in nurturing and supportive systems, install programs that will encourage instead of discourage, invest in the development of multiple voices, reinstate the chains that bind older generations to younger ones. It’s a giant endeavour. It requires investment of time, energy, economic resources; it requires willingness to take the risk and it also requires a hell of a lot of love.

**Tade Thompson made a series of tweets on diversity which I’ve storified. Do take the time to check it out.

About Bagi: Ada ti Istorya

It’s June and Bahamut Journal’s first issue is now available for purchase. There are stories and there are stories, but Bagi (included in this issue of Bahamut) is a marker for me when it comes to delving deeper into the heart of story. I wrote this post to provide a little bit of insight into what went into the writing of this piece.

I remember when I lost fluency in the use of my childhood tongue. We had just moved to Manila from the mountains and our parents had chosen to enroll my sister and I in an exclusive school. You know how you have those schools where kids come from the same social circles, grew up in the same exclusive neighborhood and went to the same kindergarten? It was that kind of school. It was a school that projected the image of: all our students come from high class families.

My sister and I were admitted as partial scholars because we both scored high on entrance exams. We were picked up by a schoolbus, and while we didn’t have a house in one of the exclusive gated subdivisions, at least we lived in a subdivision. Not well-off but at least middle class. Unfortunately, we didn’t speak tagalog very well and no one spoke Ilocano or Ifugao with us. Not even the one student who had moved to Manila from Baguio City.

Our saving grace was the fact that we could both speak English that was clearly not provincial English. As time passed, I realized that speaking English was the one way to be acknowledged and accepted somehow. Slowly but surely, I forgot all about Ilocano. By the time we graduated from highschool, I spoke Tagalog and English…mostly English because that was the posh language to speak.

I find myself thinking these days of what gets lost when we lose a language. As I grow older, I find myself yearning for more fluency in the native tongues. To be able to speak without fear of stumbling over words, to be able to burst into conversation with childhood friends on Facebook or on twitter. To say things that can only be expressed fully in the language that feels closer to my skin. I feel language bubbling just beneath my tongue, but I am often afraid because I have not exercised it for such a long time.

While thinking of language recovery, I found myself thinking too about what lies buried in language. What narratives had I chosen to erase when I chose to leave behind that language? What narratives could be pulled out of a text or a few lines or a word? What memory–what emotion would rise up from the use of a language that has lain dormant for so long.

This is how I started writing Bagi: Ada ti Istorya. Bagi is the word for body. I was drawn to the fact that Bagi contains the same letters as biag which means life. I liked how these two words spoke to each other and thinking about these words, Bagi : Ada ti Istorya came into being.

Writing Bagi was also a physical experience. There are stories that you draw from the air, there are stories you draw from things that have happened or from other stories that inspire you, and there are stories that you draw from deep inside your body. Bagi, inevitably draws from the body. As I wrote about trauma, I was going through an escalation of chronic and psychological pain. At one point, I was writing with only one hand on the keyboard as I could barely move my other arm because of the pain coming from inflamed joints.

By Loncon, I had written more than 2000 words, I still did not have an ending and I worried that I would not finish the work because my head was filled with many other things. Then, came end of August and the Rainy Writers Retreat.

In the company of beloved women friends, I finally was able to write the ending passage to Bagi. It was like descending into the deep and then coming up utterly changed.

I think of the ways in which we sustain and support each other and I remember that story comes into being within the collective. I think of how being within the collective, being supported and surrounded by the warmth and the light of beloved ones, women and friends, precious faces, dear hearts, I think of how being within that collective enabled me to complete the circle of Bagi.

This to me is the joy of the work. It comes into being from some deep and hidden part and blossoms into the life as it is watered by the circle of true comrades.

I sent Bagi off to Bahamut Journal and kept my fingers crossed hoping and praying they would accept it so I could finally write about the experience of writing it. I don’t think I’ve been more joyful to receive an acceptance email. Bahamut Journal is my dream home for Bagi and I am so happy and proud that the editors chose to say “Yes, we want to publish this.”

Bagi: Ada ti Istorya shares a toc with other amazing authors for Bahamut Journal’s first issue (now available for purchase). My thanks to Darin Bradley and to Rima Abunasser for their support and encouragement, to Nisi Shawl who told me to submit work to Bahamut, to Nick Wood who provided me non-Ilocano speaker feedback, to my beloved friends, fellow Pinay writers and the circle of women. It is an honor to know that I’ll be able to share this work with you.

**I didn’t have time to blog about it, but Lightspeed Magazine reprinted my PSF 6 story. Breaking the Spell is now available on their website along with an author spotlight where I talk a bit about what went into that story. You can also purchase a copy of the entire issue.

**A bit late with this announcement as well. The movements column on Use of Anger can now be read on Strange Horizons.

Thoughts on the Journey: Self-care: Play and the child self

My mom has this story she likes to tell–how when I was a child learning the piano, I would always at the end of each piano piece add my own notes or my own embellishments–putting in things that weren’t there.

I wasn’t very good at playing the piano the right way because the right way somehow didn’t match how I felt it should be like. ( I got much better at following the rules when I grew older, but my piano teacher always complained that I was too passionate about whatever I was playing. Which is actually pretty cool, now that I think of it.)

Growing up in the mountains, I discovered the perfect hideaway. The mountain behind our home had a small incline with no path leading up to it–no one could see from below because of the tall grasses and the view from behind was blocked by large rocks. From this perfect place, I could look down at our home, I could see the hospital compound and I could even see the road that wound up the mountain towards our home.

I can’t think about any place more ideal for a child to be because of all the endless opportunities for adventure. Everyplace could easily be transformed into elsewhere–into another place, another world, another planet and I could be anything from a secret warrior to an otherworldly alien.

One of the things I liked to do was test out what people would do if they couldn’t find me. During hide and seek, I would hide behind those rocks and no one ever thought to look there. Eventually, they would tire of the game and the sky would change its color and the other children would head home and I would still be sitting there, hiding. I sometimes wondered if they ever missed me.

At times, I tested my mother’s patience by staying hidden even after the supper call. I would watch from my perfect vantage place as the lights in our house went on and my mother called and called. When night descended, I realized that it wasn’t quite as cozy up in my hideaway in the dark. So, I would race down the mountainside and run towards the warmth of light and the warmth of my mother’s scolding voice.

My mother’s father, when she came to live with us, would pinch me in exasperation.

What a child. What a child.

I was not very obedient. Not at all. Also, I dreamed too big for my size. I wanted too many things I couldn’t have, things I shouldn’t want, things beyond my reach.

So there I was a rather mischievous chubby child who was also rather rebellious and who couldn’t fit into a pattern, no matter how hard I tried. One time, when the evening prayers were being said and everyone was all solemn, I burst into a fit of laughter–I don’t know why. But I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed so hard that I had to leave the room and had to be scolded again afterwards.

I guess, I’m still pretty irreverent. I tend not to take myself too seriously, because honestly, if one can’t laugh at oneself one turns out to be a complete and utter bore. My kids have also given up on having a mom who fits into the mold of being what other mothers are.

I’m so sorry, I say. I know you wanted me to give you the scientific explanation, but the fantastic one sounds much more interesting, don’t you agree?

So, I may not be the most solemn or perfect mother, but at least, my kids know how to laugh and we do laugh a lot together these days.

I know I had a point in writing this, so I probably should get to it. I think that even when we are engaged in the most serious of matters, it’s absolutely necessary to keep in touch with the child self. That we don’t forget about play, about not taking ourselves too seriously. Sometimes, we may lose our way or the way is just so densely overgrown that we don’t know where it leads to anymore–but that’s really okay. Life has no tried and true map of what works and what doesn’t work, but it’s an adventure and there is always something to discover, something to learn, something precious to be found.

Today, my kids are teaching me to stay in touch with my child self. I poke fun at myself and laugh at myself. I dance together with my kids and growl like a dinosaur. I play dead or do the zombie walk–I give myself over to my child self and that gives me the strength to head back into the arena and embrace the work because everyone deserves the room to play and the space to play and this is what this genre is all about. It’s about giving yourself room to reconnect with that child self and giving yourself permission to have fun and play and create.

Spread your wings. Fly. Dream. It’s a struggle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way. Laughter and joy, indulging in play–these too are acts of resistance.

**

(1) I admit I learn things best when they are fun.

(2) I still struggle with the big black dog, but I am thankful for the moments when my child self kicks in and decides it’s time to play.

(3) This post was partly inspired by Laura Mixon-Gould’s post on Our Nerdish Legacies. It’s a seriously good post. Do take time to read and absorb the meat of it.

(4) Adding big love to Nalo Hopkinson who reminded me to think of the joyful and happy things in life. Thank you.