Wednesday, July 13, 2005


I met Nestor Vicente Madali Gonzalez, or NVM, in 1995, at the UP Baguio Writers' Workshop. I was still working as an art director for an ad agency then, spending a week's worth of vacation leaves in a writers' workshop.

NVM apparently loved to talk, and he talked to us workshoppers about everything. One time he noticed a book I was reading (a book about fiction-writing). He said he also had a copy of the book, too, and that he read a chapter every night before he went to sleep. He advised I do the same, too, and with a wink, he told me to keep the book our little secret. I've not divulged the title and the author to any other soul, to this day (well, except perhaps A--but he's my husband, whom I made to swear he'll keep it a secret).

Everything he said, I wanted to take down in my notebook--such gems of advice from a wonderful, generous, writer. He learned that I was going to Bali the week after the workshop. My office was sending me for a leadership workshop. He told me to look up an Indonesian friend (I forget the name now), handed me his business card and a P500 note, and asked me to buy a Ganesh sandalwood figurine for him.

I did not buy him a Ganesh figurine, however. Surprisingly, there weren't any nice Ganesh figurines in Bali--all of them looked very ugly and evil, and none were like the pictures of the benevolent Hindu elephant-god I'd seen (he's supposed to bring joy and happiness to the home). So I got an elegant Shiva instead, and hoped he wouldn't mind.

This--plus his change for his P500--was what brought me to his house in the UP Campus a couple of weeks later, where I got a lecture on metaphors, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, gestalt and creating a "synergistic wholeness" to stories, and an introduction to his former teacher's book, The Story: A Critical Anthology by Mark Schorer (which he even let me take home to read and study--and photocopy, hehe). All, incredibly, in one sitting.

Thankfully, he didn't mind the Shiva instead of the Ganesh he asked for (or he was too polite to tell me he did mind).

And he loved Chekhov. I was so fortunate to have had all the meetings I had with him in his bungalow in UP, all the mini-lectures on literature and writing. I even got critiques for 2 of my stories, which eventually got published in the Philippine Graphic Weekly (one of which came out only two weeks after i sent it). It was actually a short course on comparative literature, and he even gave me a reading list (which mostly consisted of stories from the Schorer anthology--because I told him I was interested most of all in the short story genre), and a list of books. And the top book on that list was Chekhov's Lady with the Lapdog and Other Stories. Most important of all, he gave me this advice, “If you want to write, take Comparative Lit, not Creative Writing.”

Of his own story collections I was somehow able to persuade him to name his favorite, and it was, at that time, A Bread of Salt. He said his favorite short story was "A Warm Hand".

He passed away on November 27, 1999, and I was too busy with my life at that time I wasn't even able to attend his tribute at the CCP.

Looking back now, it all seems so surreal. But to show for it, I still keep NVM’s blue calling card, and that close-up picture I took of him in a cab ride we shared in Baguio.

Leaving Home

The very first time I tried to leave home was when I was only about four years old. My dad had scolded me for something I did. (I think I fought with my sister.) I was very upset because my dad was angry with me and not my sister. I was in tears and feeling very melodramatic about it. I thought perhaps he didn't love me anymore, and he loved my sister more. So I thought of leaving home.

And i remember it clearly: I remember getting a cloth diaper (disposable diapers were yet to be invented)--the sort that was made of a cloth they called bird's eye--and laid it out on top of my bed. Out of my closet I got one undershirt and two panties (the lacy, frilly kind) and laid them out on top of the diaper.

I gathered two opposite corners and tied them together, and after that, I tied the remaining corners together. I was looking for a stick, but didn't find any, and so I slung my little bundle over my shoulder like a bag.

My dad was waiting for me at the foot of the stairs. I sighed (just like I saw them do it in the movies) and sat at the top of the stairs. My dad went up and sat beside me.

"So, " he said, "you've really made up your mind, huh?"

I nodded.

"You're going to leave Daddy, Mommy, Gigi and the baby?"

I give another big sigh, and nodded.

"But I don't want you to go. Everybody'll miss you."

I didn't say anything. I wanted him to be real sorry for being angry with me, and I wanted him to beg me to stay.

"So, are these the only things you'll bring?" he asked, referring to my tiny bundle. "You're not bringing much clothes, are you?"

"Nope," I shook my head sadly. I wanted him to say he loved me and that he will not be angry with me--ever. And that he'd be happy if I didn't go anymore.

"Well," he said. It was his turn to sigh. "It seems that you've already made up your mind. Mommy will be heartbroken. And Gigi won't have anybody to play with anymore. And I will surely miss my little darling."

I nodded. And waited.

"Well, "he said, finally breaking the silence, and standing up. "Let Daddy get you a cab, at least."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The world under my daddy's desk

when i was a little girl, i wanted to be lots of things when i grew up. and when i grew up, i COULD do lots of things. and now i realize that my dad--or at least his desk--had a lot to do with it.

i remember being in the second grade and being interested in archaeology. i would sneak into my parents' bedroom and open the box of books under my father's desk. they were boxes we weren't allowed to touch, because in them were very expensive books my dad set an amount aside from his monthly salary and paid a lay-away plan for. there was this 5-book series that i particularly liked--the modern book of knowledge. there was a volume on astronomy, the wildlife, the oceans, biology, and archaeology. come to think of it, i also was interested in astronomy around that time, and of all the kids in my first grade class, i could draw the best solar system, because of my first-rate reference book.

it seemed that my dad was keeping the books away till my siblings and i were older, and he was saving up to buy a bookcase with glass doors where he could lock them in. but at one point he must have decided it was pointless to keep the books in boxes when my sister and i had almost worn out the boxes in our secret reading sessions under his desk, and so one day he took the books out of the boxes and let us read them, even if he believed we were still too young for them. and so i grew up never being intimidated by huge amounts of text to a page, because at a very young age i was already enjoying reading encyclopediae.

our dad never bought us dr. seuss books and bought very few picture books, and so for my amusement, i read about the stories about the eruption of mt. vesuvius at pompeii, the story of the boy king tutankhamen and ancient egypt, the histories of the lost civilizations of alexandria, mesopotamia, maya, and the lives of real indiana jones characters like howard carter. pretty soon i was reading beyond ancient and lost civilizations, and was reading the biographies of kings and their mistresses, the various saints and martyrs, and the colorful lives of artists through time like Hieronymous Bosch, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.

it's the rain. i remember those childhood days. and the vivid smells-- of the rain, of the pages of the books, of the carton boxes mingling with the faint musty wood of my dad's desk.