Sunday, August 26, 2007


IMAGINE that you are not where you are right now.

That instead of leafing through these pages and watching lines colors faces streak and blur you are somewhere else perhaps under the dripping leaves the morning just beginning to stir under the mist of last night’s rain or is it dream of rain the early figures bent to their destinations moving past blind to the trees blind to the patch of green diminished but not hidden by the high rises avenues shuttered houses dingy washing pressing against the restraining wall keeping something in or pushing something out it’s not a question that bothers three women out early dancing or still seized by last night’s fit traces still lingering in the leaves that drip drip one of them is past her prime but you cannot see wrinkles gray hair sloughing off cells from this far the trees make it too dark to tell it’s the dancing that gleams the dancing and the way a young neck snaps back tossing a laugh can one dance to the music of laughing these three seem to or don’t seem to mind if they dance to a tune beyond the hearing of eyes still weighed down by the march of Mondays tuesdayswednesdaysthursdays this edifice looks on bemused it knows that week and the week before that and the one that will follow it is just a building then unfeeling block just stone ingress egress except last night’s rain washed away dust tedium hours all that remains is the bright new morning framed by trees and softened by mist the building no longer steel and stone just a silhouette against the sky washed clear as marbles whose red blues yellows is a song of colors jigging with the women pining to join the running flipping boys why do the young wake early when there is no need for them to do so school teachers regiments hours and hours away a virtual lifetime held at bay it’s not an inner alarm that gets the young out early on a day when they don’t have to it’s life’s juice coursing responding to the promise of the day punctuated by slim young forms curling like commas uncurling to become exclamations that don’t crush leaf blade just skim like gust of breeze bending the overgrown grass this way and that two small boulders workmen may have left behind not part of some grand landscape scheme no disciple of the new aesthetic but the boys recognize and circle the stones reenact an ancient ritual recognizing these as promontories from which to launch the morning’s promise the tallest of them hitches long shorts or short pajamas revealing knobby knees and shins and still hairless haunches betraying no muscle of impending years just a quiver of excitement shouts challenges as boy backs up and the others cheer jeer egg him on to quit talking and an arrow is released from a bow he is launched one foot leaping on the rock and the rest of him goes up in the hair arches flips hangs and the breath is unfrozen and the moment passes boy pajamas limbs slip slide roll on the wet grass a grin the only answer the only challenge needed for the rest to follow and it’s like the world stands on its head and it is not sky that rains but grass raining a comma of boys curling flipping walking on air to be received none too gently by the blue earth vaporizing falling again the world one explosion of boys the trees look on without comment knowing how each moment shrill laugh boisterous shout brings them closer to who they will become men bent to their destinations walking past not seeing two boulders nearly obscured by grass unruly and growing wild except under the shadow of the trees drip drip dripping 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 26, 2007 issue

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Doll wars

EARLY this year, I dropped by a mall to get a doll, and was shellshocked by the epic struggle to find the Perfect Princess.

Even though my budget drastically whittled down the options, there still seemed an entire universe of pliable ladies simpering to be rescued if I could fork over anything from P99.75 to P499.75.

Being a mother of boys had spared me from even glancing at this merchandise. As godmother and aunt, I've generally stuck to giving books and shirts, ducking behind the rationale that kids are always wearing out their clothes but should be wearing out more storybooks.

But this one time was different. From the south, a three-year-old girl came with her mother and uncle for a free operation to begin repairing her cleft palate. On this first visit to the city, the little girl had not stopped crying or fussing into the night.

So, wanting to redeem her trip from the memory of examining doctors, the hospital smell, heat and noise, I paced up and down toy shelves, trying to decide which vinyl smile could make a child in tears hold out her arms.

But just a few minutes of scrutiny made me wonder if dolls did a lot of comforting.

Deceptively frothy, doll displays are disguised arenas for a showdown between warring standards of girl identity. On one hand is the ideal of gentility, represented by that 1950s icon, Barbie by Mattel Inc. In the opposing camp, pouting their bee-stung lips and flashing their hooded eyes, are the Bratz dolls of MGA Entertainment.

For a fashion doll introduced in 1959, Barbie forced many girls to live up to her impeccable standards. She confused me then, even as she still intimidates me, whistlebait waistline, price tag and all.

When my mother was fed up with my hellraising and urged me to “act like a lady,” I instinctively tiptoed, mimicking my Barbies. Despite the loss of most of their clothes and some of their hair, my blonde Barbie and half-brunette, half-bald Barbie had, aside from perfect gams, perpetually arched heels.

While the stuffed dolls slumped over their tea, the Barbies never slouched and never lost their regal bearing, thanks to those unbending vinyl knees. It was only after I saw a cousin's Barbie collection, perfectly preserved behind a glass cabinet, that I realized the point behind this perpetual tiptoeing: Barbie's feet were arched to fit high heels. (For a time, I really believed tiptoeing curbed inner demons.)

If she was hard on us girls, Barbie was merciless on herself. She is the most altered doll pre-Botox and other body modifications. According to wikipedia, her breasts were first to be altered after parents expressed unhappiness over her “distinct” chest. In 1971, Barbie's eyes were adjusted to look forward, in keeping with a modern gal. (The original model cast a demure sideways glance.)

According to the same online reference, Slumber Party Barbie came out in 1965 with a pink bathroom scale fixed at 110 lbs. and a dieting book that advised, “don't eat.” In 1997, Barbie was given a waistline that would put a stop to any anorexic fantasy after Finnish researchers revealed that Barbie's proportions lacked the “17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate.”

Contrasting with Barbie's neuroses is the Bratz babes' “attitude.” Though given lineages, names and skin tones that are multicultural, representative and inclusive, their political correctness stops with the excessive commercialism and overt sexuality.

Luckily, my budget saved me from having to seek out a toystore shrink to just work through my confusion if it is proper to give a child a premature Perfection Complex (via Barbie) or a Materialism Fetish (via any of the heavily accessorized Bratz babes).

Two days after giving my locally made Dream Princess, I asked our friend how her daughter was sleeping. No more tantrums, no crying to sleep, she reported: my little girl now sleeps like an angel, one arm around the clear plastic box containing a child's fantasy in pink tulle, complete with bendable knees and arms. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 19, 2007 issue

Just do 8

I've been tagged by Solang (

Here are the rules for “8 facts”:

• In the “8 facts,” you share 8 things that your readers don’t know about you. At the end, you tag 8 other bloggers to keep the fun going. Each blogger must post these rules first.
• Each blogger starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
• At the end of the post, a blogger needs to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
• Don’t forget to leave them a comment they’re tagged, and to ask them to read your blog.

WRITE eight facts that your readers don’t know about you.

This was my task after fellow newsroom denizen Solang tagged me and seven other bloggers. In the “8 Facts,” a blogger “tags” eight people by sending this post of “eight random facts/habits about themselves” to their friends’ blogs and asking them to tag eight others.

After Solang’s tag, I visited her blog and the seven others, read their “8 facts,” and thoroughly enjoyed discovering new bloggers, as well as some facets I never knew about close friends and long-time colleagues.

But I still hadn’t written my own list. In a few hours, it will be exactly a week since I received Solang’s post. I feel spooked by my attempts to create what should be a very short list. It feels somehow like I’m writing before a mirror (realizing later that this is one thing I could include in the list and—deep sigh—worry then about just seven more facts.)

So, after several false starts and a severe writing hangover, I’ve decided to “just do 8” and beg the reader’s forgiveness for inflicting these on her:

I like to write facing a wall. I need to forget where I am to start and finish anything. I can shut out the world if the deadline has really been severely trespassed, putting my life (or my editor’s sanity) in extreme jeopardy. But I still prefer not to write facing a door, a window, or a mirror. I’ve been told that someday someone might just stab me in the back. I’ll take the chance, rather than have someone walk in and catch me talking to myself (or dozing when I’m supposed to be at work).

I like to finish writing a piece before taking a break. I take a sandwich for lunch, as well as bring my water bottle so I don’t have to line up at the carenderia and go back to find an unfinished draft has curdled, fizzled or, worse, refused to take up again with me until we come to a neat end. Since doctors though have told me that I will someday own a kidney stone as large as a mountain from holding in my bladder too frequently, I have modified this rule: with the cooperation of my bodily fluids, I will not leave a paragraph midstream.

I watch my back when prepositions and idioms are around. I never trust these two-timing shapeshifters. Fortunately, there is Google.

I always overwrite. I believe there is a newsroom malady akin to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): bombarded by deadlines, writer defers writing until the 13th hour, then panics, then gets too much data or data for somebody else’s assignment, and writes a piece that needs to be lynched and mauled before it will fit the available news space. Guess what? I don’t have PTSD. (I know my special reports editor is reading this.)

I write best when not writing: smelling books, just doing nothing, or reading some poor sod write about writing. Sometimes story angles and opening sentences occur when the mind is unguarded and left open. I know this from experience. (I’m not saying this only for the benefit of my editors.)

I plan the first line. Where closing lines come from though is one of life’s mysteries. The “clincher” is best not analyzed but, like silences and orgasms, just fervently appreciated.

I don’t like editing at all. I only edit because my newsroom pays slightly more to its editors.

I like writing.

Here’s my tagged 8:

Elisabeth P. Baumgart (
Fr. Stephen Cuyos (
Carlos Q. Tabada (
Jeneen R. Garcia (
Joy Sosoban (
Jianna Karla K. Olayvar (
mustAveabag (
Omar Dumdum ( 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 12, 2007 issue

Fellow beasties

MEDIA is a “feral beast” that “hunts in packs.”

The parting words of the British ex-prime minister Tony Blair got a boxed commentary in the June 16 issue of “The Economist.”

The weekly news magazine paid him the back-handed compliment of being an excellent communicator—“with an unerring knack for finding the right words to provoke the coverage he wanted” and “whose administration will always be synonymous with spin.”

The man who knew media too well argued that the press was fragmented by too much competition for the attention span of an audience hungry only for “scandal, gossip and disgust.”

In one of his last speeches before handing over power to Gordon Brown last June 27, Blair cited media’s blind spots: “the mingling of fact and opinion; a failure to reflect ambiguity and to provide balanced criticism; and the elevation of sensation and controversy above straight reporting.”

Such negativism, he argued, sapped the “country’s confidence and self-belief.”

The parting of ways between pillow companions is often marked by a lot of acrimony. Blair is neither the first nor will he be the last public official to be indiscreet about a relationship that once served him well when he was in power, and needed the media to stay in power.

If he chose to come clean on his way out of office, it may be that he wants to redeem his years of manipulating the public through the press. Especially as he no longer needs this press to woo public opinion or water down criticism.

That is a train of reasoning that can make any beast grin wolfishly.

Like many prominent news sources, Blair is conveniently blind to his role in media excesses. What The Economist concedes about media’s relationship with its audience—“They feed them accordingly, often ignominiously”—can very well apply for the unholy alliance between some media and some news sources.

Oversensitivity to criticism and primordial political survival are the chief reasons why these news sources select which reporter or news outlet to give their side to or to leave out in the cold. Thick-skinned journalists are understandably unmoved by an official outcry railing against “news distortion” and “lack of balance” because they suspect the undiluted crocodile tears being shed for the people’s right to know may just be politicalese for “your criticism is hurting us” or “just slant it to our side.”

Blair’s metaphor of the press as a “feral beast” also leaves out, conveniently for him and other spin masters, their attempts to turn or domesticate this wild thing. What you can’t silence, you can corrupt. What you can’t buy, you can feed pap or scraps or dancing footage.

If one pauses to read, listen or view carefully the media, one only has to be alert to the publicity-seeking posturing, lack of transparency in public deals, self-interested crusades, and telltale inaction and silence on crucial public concerns to be wary about the wild packs circling the public and just bidding its time.

And, yes, the media might be running with the pack. But it never hunts alone. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 5 issue