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 I’m releasing another bit of previously unpublished work today in honor of that.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.

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.

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.

Offered with Thanks

Aftermath

By Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

After the storm, there is only silence.

It makes sense, Celia thinks. Here, within the confines of her home, it is always silent.

Her heels make a dull clicking sound on the linoleum floor as she walks from the living room to the kitchen.  All morning, she has been watching footage, her ears bombarded by the sound of high wind and rain and the unbelievable image that is her country under siege.

Storm.

She looks out at clear blue skies. It is quiet outdoors. All her neighbours have gone off to work. Her children are at school. All is quiet in her head.

#

“How terrible,” the woman standing next to her at the school plain says. “And do you know anything yet about your family?”

Celia doesn’t know what to say.

In her head, the family home is an invulnerable place. That old house with its foundation of stone, was it still standing?

She offers a tentative smile.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone yet,” she says. “But I’m sure they’re fine.”

That home is beside the sea, she thinks. When her grandmother was newly married, there was a tsunami. They survived by tying themselves to the stone posts of the house. Afterwards, the villagers discovered porcelain jars beneath the house. Some of them were from the Ming Dynasty—that was what her grandmother said.

“We managed to get some for ourselves,” Grandmother said. “Like that one. You see that one, Celia? Do you see that jar with the blue dragons?”

Celia remembers the dragons and the wonder of that jar which was taller than her seven year old self.  Will that jar still be there? Will it still be standing in that hallway?

The woman moves away and another takes her place.

On usual days the women hardly ever take notice of her. They stand around in a cluster and talk to each other. They laugh and speak in what Celia calls their secret code. Somehow, they know about each others’ mishaps—dental appointments, divorces, funerals. They exchange information on mundane things, like who is going to whose birthday and what they plan to eat for dinner.

Celia has tried, but she’s never managed to break that code. She still hasn’t deciphered the secret of the magic circle that is them.

Now, they move in degrees towards her, their eyes inquiring.

Celia is relieved when the bell rings and the children emerge from their classes.

She smiles at the woman who offers her a glance that is probably meant to convey sympathy.

#

“Mama,” her youngest son says. “At school they said that all of Philippines has been destroyed. Did it go boom?”

“It was a storm,” Celia says. “And not all of it is destroyed, just parts of it.”

“And Lolo and Lola?” her son asks.

“They’re fine,” Celia says. “We’ll hear from them any day now.”

“I’m afraid,” her son says. “Ï’m afraid of the blood.”

“When we go home, the blood won’t be there anymore,” Celia says.

She gazes out at this view of neatly ordered houses. In her mind’s eye, she sees bodies on a distant shore—a landscape shattered by the hand of nature.

The future seems bleak. There is still no word and she is losing hope.

#

Grandmother putters through the debris of Celia’s efforts at housecleaning.

“Well,” she says. “Well, it can’t be helped. Who would have known that the cupboard would topple over?”

She makes a clicking sound.

“There’s broken glass too. Oh well. . . “

“Lola,” Celia says.

“Don’t move,” Grandmother says. “Stay where you are. There’s glass everywhere.”

“I’m sorry,” Celia says.

“Ah child,” Grandmother says. “it’s an old thing. And it’s not like it was an antique. Uncle Berto will make a new one. This time, he’ll make it from narra wood.”

#

“Ma,” finally they have a connection. “Are you all right?”

“We’re fine,” her mother says. “Your father’s off again. He just came back, but he’s off again. I think he forgets that he’s already old. But there are so many wounded and there aren’t enough doctors. It can’t be helped.”

“And the house?” Celia asks.

“Your Lola is fine,” her mother says. “Shaken, but fine. Your uncle found her. We were also worried for a while. Celia, don’t cry. It’s fine. We’re all fine. But so many died. So many. . .”

Inside her head, the silence breaks.

She can hear the wind. She can see the trees. Winter rain washes across the glass pane of her window.

“I’ll do what I can,” she says. “I will also do what I can.”

<<end>>

A.N. A lot has happened since my last post. Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. Many Filipinos lost homes and loved ones. Because of the extent of the devastation, it took a week for aid to arrive in affected areas. The world’s response to the fate of Filipinos is overwhelming. This small offering is a thank you for the continued support and for the overwhelming response to the plea for help from the Philippines. Please continue to keep us in mind as we work to rebuild what can be rebuilt.