Weave (First of two parts)

Nonfiction by | March 15, 2021

I start to count the years since I came to Manila for work. How the walls in my rented room went through five repaints of eggshell white. The paint can only attempt to cover the fact that I live in a building where my mother used to stay when she went to college. It is a different structure now, having gone through several refurbishing, including changes in the establishment’s name. But it is still situated in the same area as in 1981 when my parents, who were in their late teens, were wed.

 

I listen to Fleetwood Mac, trying to interpret the lyrics of “Landslide” in my head again. Stevie Nicks’s voice has a certain calmness to it that makes me want to sit down and ponder about being bolder in my decisions.

 

I learned to adapt by myself. True, I was born in Quezon City. We left for the province for good when I was going on four after my father completed his degree. However, I have been living on my own these days; no longer the kid that I was when we lived in Lerma Street.

 

I was fifteen when I actually left Malabang for university in Davao. I have never come back home permanently. I carry around with me my father’s enthusiasm and my mother’s prudence. These virtues make me constantly remember who I am as a daughter of Malabang and as a descendant of one of Lanao del Sur’s oldest families. Tucked in my pockets are faint memories of my early childhood in Sampaloc. There are fleeting moments when I cannot decide where to put my loyalties—in the city of my birth or in the region of my heritage. Whatever happens though, I will tell myself I may come from different places but at the end of the day, I remain a Maranao.

 

People say I speak with a Manileño accent now. I say I may have some occasional slips. I casually walk the streets with my hijab on. I can tell when a tricycle driver overcharges fare. I became friends with the LBC attendants in Bustillos. I go to the same street in Quiapo where you can buy sasati[1] at a cheap price. I know when is the best time to leave Roxas Boulevard before you get stuck in the traffic rush. I look forward to January and February when it is the coldest.


 

Basa (Language)

 

My first language was Tagalog, just as it was for all of my younger siblings. It was most likely the environment that influenced my parents to make me speak Tagalog first.  It is quite different for my younger siblings who were born in Iligan City. Three of them still use Tagalog as their primary language so do some of my younger cousins. Although it may not be the Tagalog that is spoken here in Manila, those siblings and cousins still speak Tagalog.

 

I certainly speak Maranao on a regular basis with my parents and the rest of the family, friends, and strangers who speak to me in our tongue. I also speak fluent Bisaya just like everyone in my hometown. In Malabang, we have cultural harmony. Maranaos there speak excellent Bisaya as if it has always been our first language. Our fellow Christians on the other hand talk to you in Maranao so flawlessly you would think they were born as Maranaos.

 

One time, a friend insisted Malabang is “christianized,” and therefore is some sort of a half-breed municipality. I did not understand because I was raised in a town where fiestas and beauty contests are held flamboyantly but the adhan[2] is heard consistently and beautifully at the designated hours of the day. Bisaya was also the same language spoken in Davao and Cagayan de Oro where I studied my undergraduate course and law school. This is perhaps the reason why my “occasional slips” are mostly caused by “binisaya accents.”

 

At the office, the fondest thing told me was that I am a “Bisayang Muslim.”

 

It gets tricky though when I switch from one language to another. For instance, I answer “Oway,” which means “yes” in Maranao to somebody who asks, “Kumain ka na ba?” or “Wala pa lagi,” which means “not yet” in Bisaya. Let me throw in some “Wen ngarud” for constantly hearing some friends and officemates speak Ilokano. I have discovered that some Ilokano words are quite close to Maranao terms, including emphasis on some syllables that sound angry to ears not used to hearing passion and force in phrases and sentences.

 

Language is very much fascinating to me. In UP, I had Nihongo and French as course electives. I can still understand some “hai” and “yokatta” here and there or a little bit of “oui, s’il vous plait.” I wish I pursued learning Japanese and French harder than just getting a passing mark. I am likewise learning Italian through a phone application that reminds of progress by the day. Juggling letters and words in different languages is exhilarating, offering me windows where I can explore beyond the “5 Ws and   1 H” of Lanao del Sur.

 

On the other hand, Arabic is closer to home. It is expected of Muslims to know how to read Arabic in order to recite the Qur’an. I can fairly read verses and scripts, having gone to Madrasah during my elementary years. However, I quit Arabic school too soon to learn diacritics. I rely on familiarity in order to identify phonetics, vowels, and consonants. Mastering diacritical marks takes time.

 

Please do not ask me about speaking Arabic. I have not yet learned to speak the Islamic language. I think it is not too much trouble if I leave it all to my brother, Alrahji, who studies at the Islamic University of Madinah. He mastered guttural sounds and speaks like a true Arab man it makes us giggle.

 

I remember my professors in the UP Creative Writing program who suggested I write in Maranao.      I fear my knowledge of the language is not enough. I cannot even manage to say the “proper” words in specific situations. I gave in to my Omie’s[3] sharp criticism of the expressions I thought were correct but turned out mispronounced or simply inappropriate. Once, I told my Abie[4]of my plans to write in Maranao. He firmly said it would be difficult for me and that I should not venture into matters that are outside my capacity as a writer. Especially not at the expense of the basa-a-Maranao. But while I admit to being linguistically impaired on the subject, it is my hope that I will not be seen as a traitor to my own heritage. When I was growing up, my parents forbade me to read Tagalog materials for my leisure. They instead fed me English books and magazines that filled my stomach to the fullest, I burped with pleasure.

 

When I was around nine, my maternal grandma said in one of her family speeches that Islam encourages continuous learning—one that is beneficial to you and to others around you. I kept that in mind as I consciously left Malabang to satiate my yearning to learn anything that nudges my curiosity.

 

-to be continued-

 

[1] fish nuggets

[2] call for prayer

[3] Arabic term for “mother”

[4] Arabic term for “father”

 


 Arifah Macacua Jamil writes short stories. “Weave” is her first essay.

 

The Journey of Harriet Pat and Her Hat

Nonfiction by | March 8, 2021

Several years ago, I was uncertain where to begin my writing journey. Diving into the writing rollercoaster was overwhelming. Just imagine balancing balls of your ideas with what the reading market wants versus what the publishers expect, navigating the publishing industry, and securing the stability of your finances all in one act. At one point, you will be strained to make a decision and you might end up dropping one ball or two. The question is which one are you willing to sacrifice?

 

In my case, there was no doubt that I was keeping my ideas. I wanted my books to sell but I was more resolved in shaping up the stories in my head. I was unwilling to sacrifice the idea of writing the kind of children’s books that came to me ten years ago while reading to kindergarten students. During that time, I found myself nitpicking the books I used in my reading-aloud sessions. I entertained so many ‘unta’ (the closest translation was ‘I wish’). I wished that the book sizes were larger. I wished that they used bigger fonts that young learners can identify and teachers can read with ease. I wished that they used more vibrant colours. I wished rhythm and rhyme were applied. But my biggest ‘unta’ was wishing for serious life skills to be tackled as I have always believed that children were more perceptive than what we gave them credit for. It was frustrating how adults continued to think that we can put off revealing the harsh realities of our world to children, leaving them vulnerable when these realities hit them on moments when we were not around. As much as we wanted to shield them, children were bound to encounter these realities at some point. I felt that it was best to prepare them early on.

 

During that same period, I was specifically moved by someone very close to me who was pouring himself to make things possible for other people. It broke my heart how he sacrificed everything and left nothing for himself. Back then, I wished that he would hold back even just a little and also take care of himself as he was dangerously enabling others to rely on him so much. The more I thought of him, the more people came to mind. He was not alone. I knew so many others like him who were in the same predicament and who also never had the heart to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ to those who repeatedly asked for help, to the point that they were taken advantage of.

It was while I was reflecting on how one’s excessive kindliness could breed dependency and subservience that Harriet Pat and Her Hat began to take form. Most children’s books would dabble into the values of helping others but will not dare touch that part of the narrative that discussed the possibility of ‘help’ being exploited. Adults would argue that children are not ready for these topics and such values can be taught later. At a mature age, restructuring values can become tricky however it can go a long way if introduced while still young. The best feature of children’s literature is converting big serious topics into more relatable or easier-to-digest messages by using the lens of a child. With the play of simple words and the lightness that illustrations offer, readers will become more receptive and the said topics will not materialize as being too heavy for children to comprehend.

 

My main character, Harriet Pat, was inspired by that loved one and all other people who selflessly helped others but have forgotten about themselves. These real-life Harriet Pats were heroes but what I really wanted was for people around these Harriet Pats to realize that anyone can be a hero by harnessing their uniqueness (and sometimes they just needed to be shown how). In the book, this uniqueness was represented by a hat – an object that can be made and then put on or taken off, thus an acquired characteristic that a person would consciously choose to create and wear.

 

I elaborated the concept further by injecting diversity with the use of varied names. The decision to use names that were ‘common’ in their respective regions came with the hope of emphasizing that every person was unique. I imagined that this can be a window of opportunity for acknowledging different cultural backgrounds where curiosity can pave the way for new knowledge. Maybe after being introduced to such names, readers will start wondering where they came from, what the people there were like, and what languages they used. They would become curious about other cultures and understand that each person is blessed with a set of characteristics that he or she can utilize for himself or herself.

 

Although I had most of the components set in place, completing Harriet Pat and Her Hat took several years to finish because I had many excuses and dilly-dallied on my decisions out of fear. I was immobilized by my doubts about whether people, other than my family, would be interested to read my book and by how others would perceive it. It was in my 9th year of playing around with the writing project that I finally decided to get the manuscript published. If there was anything that 2020 taught me, it was to stop putting things off and start making things happen. From there on, everything was a blur of movement. My only regret now is that I wasted more time worrying about my book’s reception than the actual time for work that I invested in creating it. On the bright side, this regret is fueling my drive to finish my next children’s book which again will dabble into a big serious topic such as depression.

 


Daniel Ceeline Ramonal,  is a Filipino dance anthropologist, artist, and writer currently based in Serbia. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication from the University of the Philippines and an International Masters in Dance Knowledge, Practice, and Heritage under the Erasmus Mundus Choreomundus program in Europe. She collaborates on various projects which have taken her from the Philippines to Bahrain, India, Tanzania, Hungary, Sierra Leone, France, UK, Morocco, and UAE. To get copies of Harriet Pat and Her Hat, the book is available in both physical and online shops of Central Books. Visit the FB page “The Book Den” for more information.

Words Keep Me (In)Sane: I Count Time By My Mania

Nonfiction by | March 1, 2021

Work 1: this sound is all that lingers, 2.4k words, Pining, No Dialogue

 

Everybody fears the outside. I write of storms, where the thunder and lightning are free to do as they please, where they reach places I’m afraid to want to visit again. I draft my first sentence in the middle of March during the lockdown, when school said we’ll be back by April 12 to have final examinations. Nobody cared, we just wanted to graduate. I draft my first paragraph, I’m still afraid. Teachers are silent even through online chats, and we are left to fend for ourselves. I turn to open a Word document, determined to at least add another word as testament to my nostalgia.

 

Pining: I want. There are relationships lost, conversations halted by distance, hands unheld, aches that I’m hoping are just strictly platonic; but how do I know which one to want first? Am I even given that much liberty? I’m aware I want so much that I still long for. How does one turn feelings into words? You don’t. You slap paper against your chest and hope the words bleed through your skin enough so they’d show in the print. No Dialogue: I have no one to talk to. This is evident in my drafts. The conversations are awkward, I have forgotten how one talks to people, Practice Makes Perfect but I don’t have anyone else.

 

“This sound is all that lingers” is the story proof of my maddening loneliness, my first supposed-upload, but I didn’t finish writing the story in March.

 

Work 2: summer all year round, 4.4k words, Pining

 

I turn 18. Does one choose celebration over limiting the budget so the family would last another week? I turn 18 and I pass UPCAT and some of my friends cry over their own rejections. I turn 18 and there is no pancit, no noodles, no anything that wishes me longevity. I’m lonely and afraid and I finish my first story and I upload it through a weak mobile data connection. I’m afraid. The story’s about wanting relationships and it reeks so much of longing the feeling urges me to immediately start drafting another story.

 

Pining, yet again: These are all the leftover wants I’ve kept buried. Part of these are thoughts of hands holding mine. I think of showing these wants to the world, of coaxing my vulnerability so it comes out to burn under the sun.

 

I finish and upload both stories.

 

Work 3: Take Him Mad, 5.3k words, Greek Myths

 

I start reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in hopes of distracting myself. I don’t listen to the news. The television stays off to reduce the bills— no internet connection, no means of reaching out. I have nothing but words and words and a surplus more of words. I find that I grow tired of it easily, that mothers are angered more easily when they’re alone and tired, that you can go mad without going insane; I find myself learning more reading more writing more.

 

Works 4, 5, 6: Greek Myths, a total of 27.3k words

 

“What about the internet connection?” “Don’t worry, I’ll think of something.” The next day, our neighbor—my godmother, who remembered me only when I said I had passed UPCAT—gives me a piece of paper with a scribbled code and wishes me luck on college. I start classes and my hair is a blaze of orange dye. I hoped nobody would mind and they didn’t, and I don’t know why but I was a little disappointed. My mind has been empty for so long I struggled to wrap it around the fact that I’m studying again. My mother has a job now: she cooks for someone wealthier in the subdivision and she can afford all the pancit and spaghetti dishes I could ever want as compensation for their absence on my birthday. I don’t want any of them now. Every time she goes out I think of a better alternative to the simple “Take care.” I look for words and prayers that would protect her more than any masks could.

 

Thumbs aching and phone overheating, I know I obsess only because I write under a pseudonym, that I’m maniacally loud only because I have this mask. I learn that my case is called “touch starvation.” I’ve uploaded so many words in less than a couple of months. Writing has become a hobby, a love, and an ache. It keeps me awake long enough to write of the sunrises I witness through my window.

 

Work 7: Hymn Him Sun, Greek Myths, (?) words—Ongoing

 

I go online. I meet other writers and befriend other writers and find happiness with other writers. They’re all older than me but no one mocks me for writing fantasy fiction. They know we’re all in need of escapism, and we offer each other just that. I eat more and my mother is happier and I encounter a plot hole I can’t seem to solve. But despite the busyness I find myself in a state of lethargy, and I just can’t seem to make time for writing anymore. This is trouble; I have readers now. I have comments saying they are waiting for the next installment.

 

I like my course. I get to do what I’ve wanted to do for two years now. But even through this achievement, I’m still afraid and nervous and unsure. There are too many things going on and I’ve been too used to doing nothing. Characters stare at me from the drafts and I turn a blind eye, because I have to write other things now, because I have to prioritize academe now.

 

Everything’s emotionally and mentally the same except for the fact that I now know it hadn’t been platonic aching all along! It took me months to realize that I did not want just platonic hand-holding! I let out a laugh, bitter and cold and a little too throaty to be of mirth. For I honestly thought writing would help me, but I fear it has only served as a self-brewed concoction of what I have been missing. I’ve been tasting my own medicine this whole time.

 

But I am a writer, and in that I have not changed. The awareness of your own cowardice doesn’t magically turn it into courage. Guess what my latest work is about. I think the answer’s clear. Nothing has truly changed, after all, for still I long, I pine, I write.


Blessie Bruce is a BA English-Creative Writing student of UP Mindanao and a content writer specializing in real-person fiction as an outlet for writing exercises. Her work can be read on the website AO3 (Archive of Our Own).

Ayuda in Five Acts

Nonfiction by | February 8, 2021

ACT ONE: Homecoming

By a stroke of luck, or divine intervention, I had a pre-scheduled trip home to Mindanao and was already armed with a plane ticket for March 14th. I had been studying at a university in Manila, and decided in early February that I needed a short break from the rigorous academics. Because of that spur-of-the-moment decision, I missed getting caught up in the Manila lockdown by mere hours; my flight was one of the last they allowed to take off. My grandmother and uncle met me at the Ozamiz airport, expressing their disbelief at how close I had gotten to waiting out the pandemic alone and in a city that did not speak my mother tongue.

But I had only traded one prison for another – a cage of smog and neon lights for a cage of the over-familiar. The moment I returned to my hometown, they put me in quarantine – a kinder word than ‘house arrest’, though similar in its rigidity. I was lucky enough to live just ten paces away from my extended family, so though I was a prisoner, I had fellow inmates willing to spend their afternoons playing badminton with me. For two weeks, I was content with watching shuttlecocks arc gracefully over my grandmother’s garden while outside our gates, the town became quieter and quieter.

And then, on the fourteenth day, I was informed that one of the people on my flight home had tested positive, and so my sentence was extended. We waited to see if I would end up on death row.

I paced aimlessly, a nameless, nebulous fear breathing down my neck. The virus had been a distant thing – someone else’s problem – but now it was knocking at my door. All too suddenly, the panic and apprehension that I had only seen on the news were now my own. Obituaries were only words until you recognized the names.

Every small cough was proof against my innocence. My family watched from afar as I obsessively monitored my temperature – the numbers that would determine my fate. Through it all, I could not find comfort in their arms; I was Judas in the garden and my kiss could doom them all.

Eventually, I was cleared of all charges. I did not lose my sense of smell, I did not get feverish, and my lungs did not collapse. But the rest of the world did.

No matter, I thought to myself, trying to scrounge up some inkling of hope as I watched a lone tricycle driver pedal down the empty road from my bedroom window. No matter. This, too, shall pass. 

ACT TWO: Perspective

It could have been worse. I heard it in the weary sigh of my dormmate, a probinsyano stuck in our sprawling dorm complex, doomed to numbly pace the hollow hallowed halls like an addition to its pantheon of ghosts and trickster elves. “I want to go home.” His voice cracked from the weight of his isolation. “I just want to go home.”

It could have been worse. I saw it in the unending march of Facebook posts across my timeline – ayuda, they called out in a colonizer’s language reclaimed, help. I send as much aid as I can to as many people as I can, and still here was another, and another, and another. Ayuda, ayuda, ayudame. Ayúdanos. 

It could have been worse. I felt it in the despair of my fellow citizens. They wasted away while the government wasted time, occupied with senseless nonsenses (many of their own invention). The masses took to the streets – organized, following all protocols, armed with righteous fury and cardboard signs. They were dispersed by the boys in blue whose father’s crimes still go unpunished. And across the country, I languished alone, my nails digging crescent-moon dents into my palms.

ACT THREE: A Video Call

“I know, I know, I miss you, too. It’s been too long since—yes, yes, I promise, after the lockdown, we’re going—okay, okay. How’s your boyfriend? What? What do you mean you broke up? When? Four months ago? Why didn’t you tell me? You could have at least called, you know! … I’m sorry. It’s just… I’m not used to not seeing you every week, I guess. I used to know you so well and now it’s… yeah. Yeah. I know. It’s not our fault. It’s been tough for everybody. Don’t apologize. Don’t be sorry. No, please don’t cry, it’s—Hello? Hello? … Damned PLDT.”

ACT FOUR: Perspective (Reprise)

And life went on. Lockdowns were lifted. People strolled leisurely through the park, their words muffled by cloth masks. I looked outside my bedroom window one day and, for once, was grateful to see traffic. I paid tricycle drivers twice as much as the usual fare, and I toasted to my stranded friends’ homecoming.

And life went on. On my flight home so many months ago, the pretty attendant had gestured to the place above our heads where the oxygen masks would drop down in case of an emergency. “Please mind your own mask first before tending to others,” she’d told us then, repeating the instructions from the laminated manual I had not bothered to pick up. I now understood that, sometimes, the best advice you could ask for can be found on the back of an airplane’s safety information card.

And life went on. Classes were now held online, substituting blackboards with laptop screens, and chalk with Google Docs. I was hounded by deadlines and requirements, but it was better than being hounded by fear.

Still, some days, I found myself counting how many times my classmates got disconnected from a Zoom meeting. I counted how many times they apologized for slow signals and brownouts. I watched news of jeepney drivers begging for food, frontliners begging for hazard pay, teachers begging for time. Because life went on – but not for all of us.

ACT FIVE: Respite

We went to the beach last week. When our car stopped at the edge of the surf, my young cousins were quick to remove their clothes and stumble into the shallows, heedless of their mothers’ cries of, “You forgot your sunblock!” One cousin dove at the other, their small heads disappearing under the murky water for a few seconds before they resurfaced, guffawing. I couldn’t help but smile. I had forgotten how sweet laughter sounded under an open sky.

“Are you coming?” my grandmother asked.

“Maybe later,” I said, and kissed her cheek.

I sat back, watching her wade into the ocean, her little body cutting through the waves with ease. The sun was scorching my skin; I imagined it burning away the paleness I had acquired in my eight months of captivity. I breathed in, out, in, out. I tasted salt on my tongue, felt the sea breeze toying with my hair.

The sea stretched on, farther and farther, into the blue horizon. And though the tide had pulled away, I knew it would always come back to the shore.

 


Kyndra Lei “Kyle” Yunting is from Zamboanga del Sur and currently a BA English student of UP Mindanao. She credits her passion for writing to reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series at a formative age, and also to her high school paper adviser.

 

Coming Home: A Study in Disaster

Nonfiction by | January 4, 2021

 

 

Every love has its landscape.

~Rebecca Solnit

 

In December 2014, almost eight years since leaving Baguio, I took my children back there for a quick vacation. It wasn’t my idea. As a matter of principle and practice, I do not travel during the Christmas season because all the airports and bus terminals and piers spill over with overseas Filipinos coming home to spend the holidays with their families. In fact, December is officially recognized as the Month of Overseas Filipinos. That year, 487,654 tourist arrivals were recorded. The Dalilings in the US were no exception. The parents of my ex-husband and the whole Filipino- Korean-American family of his sister Joy were coming home from Arizona so a grand reunion was scheduled.

My ex, Jeremy, wasn’t going to be there because he was still out at sea, where he worked as an assistant cook in a cruise ship, as an overseas Filipino worker. I didn’t want the Dalilings to think that I was keeping my children from them, so I agreed to go despite all my reasons not to. Jeremy sent money for the airfare of the kids.

One week before their flight, I was informed that his parents were not going to be there after all because Papa was still waiting for his immigration interview to be scheduled. It would have been a greater loss if he had left and it pushed through during his absence. He would have had to go back to the end of the line. So the reunion was reduced in scale. I almost decided not to go anymore, but I didnt want to waste our tickets, which cost twice as much because of peak-season demand. It hinted at a disaster waiting to happen.

“Disaster [is] a processual phenomenon rather than an event that is isolated and temporally demarcated in exact time frames,” Anthony Oliver-Smith writes. Before reading this I didn’t think “processual” was a word. But there it is.

Taken out of the context of natural disasters, it suggests that our trip back to Baguio wasn’t a disaster per se. Each of the events in that trip was part of a process that actually goes back in time, to my marriage and how it failed.

A few days after we had left Baguio to move to Davao in 2007, my mother-in-law sent me a text message saying, “We are still recuperating from our lost to you.” I still believe that she meant “from losing you,” but maybe that was really at the heart of the problem. Aside from the miscommunication wrought by translation, my marriage to their son was a battle with them from the beginning and now that I was gone, they had lost it. But didn’t they actually win it? I threw in the towel after one dead dog, two hybrid children, four transient houses, and seven years of struggling to make it work. It wasn’t how I wanted it to go. I still remembered all our good intentions when I decided to merge my Manila girl with their handsome Igorot boy.

She also wrote, “How I wish I have done more . . . you must know that your Papa and I suffered most.” Even in the suffering, they had to win. I assured her that they were not to blame for what happened. We really should never have lived with them in their house when we returned to Baguio to try to save our marriage. Or maybe we shouldn’t have married at all. They had disapproved of it in the first place. They were right about the “curse” on the second marriage in the family within the same year. But it wasn’t about their family; I just wanted to stop trying. I lost.

I was not the one who suffered most.

Oliver-Smith says, “The question of time is crucial if vulnerability is to be considered essential to the definition of disaster.” Returning to Baguio with my children for a few days gave me a clearer understanding of the battle. No matter how much I wanted to make light of it, we remained vulnerable to aggravating factors during that trip. If Jeremy had been there, it would have made more sense. I would not have had to come. Have I mentioned I didn’t want to go?

I had actually gone back to Baguio on a side trip two years before, for nine hours. I didn’t tell any of them. Even though the bus trip was longer than my visit (normally six hours each way), I just wanted to spend some time with my dear friends, eat strawberries, and buy coffee beans. I didn’t have time for pleasantries that I had already rejected. But the December trip promised to be all about pleasantries.

Their family, like many Filipino families, had always been about ignoring the elephant in the room. They liked to act as if the elephant can be part of the home décor. That was why I never fit in. I was the one who kept shouting, “Look at that monstrosity! Do something!” Or else I was, in fact, the elephant. I should have been grateful for the tolerance. But I didn’t want to disappear into Gilman’s “yellow wallpaper.” It was only a matter of time.

Eight years after the disaster of our leaving, we were in postrehabilitation. I felt strong enough to go back to the old house and mingle. I had once written a poem, “To Get to Our House,” about the road home, the home in which I felt most alienated. I searched for the old markers:

find the house of

Muling Ligaya,

pass the Calvary

Tabernacle Church,

the Assembly of God,

the Bible Believing Baptist Mission, rising from the ashes

of a long-abandoned structure.

Finally, our Lady of Fatima,

at the jeepney turning point.

 

They were all still there, and standing more impressive, perhaps testament to the tenacious faith of the community. And the winding Mangga Road down was still planted to jackfruit trees, but the narra tree marking the junction between Upper and Lower Mangga was much taller than it used to be. I stopped there to take photos of the view of the mountains, but also to take a breath before I entered the old neighborhood. I had sent the kids ahead so they could spend time with their cousins while I stayed in the transient room I had rented for the week.

The neighborhood had changed quite a bit, with the neighbors building concrete fences. Good fences make good neighbors, I thought. I really couldn’t remember how to get to the house. Hoping they didn’t have ferocious dogs, I entered one of the houses with an open gate to ask where the Daliling house was. When I finally found it, I was surprised by the home renovation: a new porch, a new kitchen, and a new bathroom with a separate toilet. By then, only one family lived there, where there used to be two plus one bachelor brother, and which doubled during the Christmas holidays. Maybe this was the new “house of Muling Ligaya”—happy again after all these years.

As it turned out, the relatives from the US were leaving early on December 31 so the New Year’s Eve celebration had to be done earlier. But I had scheduled our trip back to Manila on January 3 expecting to welcome New Year’s Eve with them and to avoid the rush of travelers going back to work. I was not prepared to serve a media noche feast in a house where I wasn’t even allowed to cook. But no one in the Daliling family invited us to stay. I supposed that was fair enough. Why should any of them have bothered with entertaining us? They didn’t owe us anything. They had already hosted the reunion requested by the American contingent, which had left. They were eager to get some rest.

And frankly, I didn’t want to have to sing “Happy New Year to You” to the tune of the birthday song again. Besides, there was a better view of city fireworks from our transient room in the area called Military Cut-off. So I served a simple scaled-down feast of a fruit salad, bread, wine, and more strawberries than we had eaten in the past eight years. I apologized profusely to my children, who really did not care about the food, as long as I served Coke.

But I admit I felt sore about it. After all the trouble of making the trip, my children and I ended up spending New Year’s Eve in a stranger’s house instead of spending it for the first time in our new house in Davao, with my new partner. It felt like an evil plan, sabotaging our own “house of Muling Ligaya.”

What’s worse was that afternoon, when we had gone to the market to buy strawberries and gifts to bring home, Sachi’s new smartphone was snatched. It was her own fault because she had placed it in her jacket pocket and it took only two seconds for the pickpocket to take it. The guy was probably following her and just waiting for his chance, which she obliged. I dragged the kids to the police station to report the crime, but the police officer on duty only reprimanded Sachi for her stupidity. It was hopeless. Later, my friends said that it was no secret to residents that Baguio police were in on the profits from fencing.

Fencing can refer to several things, the most common of which is the barrier erected between two areas to mark a boundary and to prevent entrance. It also means the Olympic sport escrime that uses special swords in a martial arts dance mimicking combat. In statistics, it is “a value beyond which an observation is considered an outlier,” something that may indicate an error in measurement.

None of these senses connect directly to the crime, which involves the sale of stolen goods through a fence, the intermediary between thief and buyer. While the law has been revised to impose higher penalties on the fence, who is now considered an active player and not simply an accessory to the crime, it requires that the stolen item be retrieved.

For many, retrieval of the item may be enough to solve the crime. In fact only in exceptional cases are the police able to find the stolen item, especially when they do not try. I insisted on filing the report in case anyone in the police station was actually concerned about the number of cases of thievery in the market, where huge signs warn, “BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS” and “KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR BELONGINGS.”

Signs that put the blame on the victim.

Feeling defeated, we decided to have an early dinner at a Chinese restaurant I used to frequent when we lived there. We all deserved a plate of lechon rice. After we had ordered, I took Raz to the barbershop down the road. I reminded Sachi to watch our bag of gifts from the market because they might be taken.

I really should have just brought the bag with me.

If I had any doubts that lightning could strike the same place twice, that evening I was certain. I just hoped that the thief might feel a little guilt when he opened the bag and saw the hand-carved driftwood crucifix I had bought for my mother. She had asked for that specifically to drive away the evil curses that she believed a neighbor had been casting on her. I knew we had to go back to get her another one.

My mother had never been religious when I was growing up. She never forced me to go to church on Sundays nor pray the rosary every day. I liked that she was not a hypocrite like that. She knew she was living in sin, being a mistress, and it was no use pretending she wasn’t by going to church.

When I was thirteen, I decided I had to try doubly hard if I didn’t want to go to hell. I joined the parish choir and served in the 6 p.m. Mass every day, sometimes as offertory collector and as lector. As if that weren’t enough, I also attended the Friday prayer meetings after Mass, where we sang and lifted up our hands in praise, and cried to show remorse and joy at the same time. I joined a Life in the Spirit seminar where I pretended I had received the gift of tongues by speaking in gibberish. It was there that I got my first menstrual period. That was the true gift of the Spirit but I didn’t recognize it at the time—it was not listed in the Bible. I read the Bible from cover to cover, using a special colored pencil to mark verses like: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” and “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

My friends and I played Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” record backward on the player and heard the masked Satanic reversed message, “Dog si natas” (Satan is god), over and over so we burned the record, along with “Hotel California” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” We listened only to Amy Grant from then on.

I hoped my fervent devotion would save me from my mother’s sinfulness.

I learned later that it was my own “sinfulness” I should have worried about. By the time I was sixteen, I had lost Jesus. Or Jesus had lost me. Depending on who was looking.

My children and I ate our New Year’s Eve dinner sullenly. I cursed my decision to come to Baguio. I declared it our worst New Year’s Eve ever, one like Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” which “hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light” and no pasalubong for my mother. I declined an invitation from an old friend to spend New Year’s Eve with his family because I was afraid that our bad luck might come in three. I didn’t want to risk taking a taxi to a far-flung neighborhood near the Philippine Military Academy and getting mugged. I know I would have felt better spending media noche with them and not having to worry about preparing a traditional feast, but I was too afraid to take any chances.

So we made do with a meager table in a dimly lit room on the fourth floor, which had a terrace from which to view the New Year fireworks every household had. A fruit salad with fresh Shoga strawberries available only in Baguio wasn’t so bad. It never made sense to me to have a heavy meal at midnight anyway just because of a tradition. And the cheap wine I got from the old Tiong San supermarket somehow tasted better while watching the fireworks, even though the display was incoherent. Living in Davao, where fireworks are illegal, has made us an audience easy to please.

We went to bed feeling grateful to be together, just the three of us, not having to be nice to anyone just because they’re relatives. So much of the Philippines is propped up by empty family traditions; it’s like the traditional Christmas lantern, the parol, and its hollow bamboo stick base. And yet it does serve to illuminate the dark; it may just be a matter of seeing.

I promised myself I would prepare a proper table on the (real) Lunar New Year in our new house, where instead of fireworks, we would bang our stainless steel washbasins to drive away the bad luck of the past.

Bad luck did come in three that day. At around 4 a.m., I was roused by Sachi’s whimpering. I thought she was crying belatedly over the loss of her phone. When I checked on her, she said her left ear was painful, like it was being poked with a barbecue stick. I gave her a painkiller so we could all get some more sleep before going to the hospital.

We spent New Year’s Day in the emergency room of Baguio General Hospital, along with some victims of firecracker accidents. Sachi’s complaint seemed trivial alongside patients with bleeding hands, but I was grateful the doctor who attended to her didn’t rush through the examination, for which we did not have to pay a peso. It turned out to be a simple ear infection, which I hoped would easily clear with otic drops.

Even when she was a baby, Sachi had been prone to ear infections caused by hardened cerumen or the common cold. I’ve had to bring her to the pediatrician to irrigate her ears a few times. I wondered if it wasn’t because there were some things she didn’t want to hear. I admit I yell a lot at home.

I yell because I do not want to hit my children. But I know yelling also hurts. Every year I make a New Year’s resolution to yell less, but the older my children get, the harder it becomes to keep it. Yelling makes me feel like I have control. What it really does is make my kids afraid of me, like Raz, or defiant, like Sachi. The louder I yell, the higher the fence it erects between us.

The trip wasn’t entirely a waste of time and resources, even though it felt like it at that time. I was able to reconnect with my old friends, who were my true family in Baguio: teacher-friends, former-student-friends, writer-friends, lesbian-and-gay-friends, almost-exes-friends-if-only. Even though I’m not very good at keeping in touch across the distance, I never throw away any friends. I take every opportunity to reconnect and to feel at home somehow because of a shared joy or pain in the past.

Even more, we ate at every favorite restaurant and ordered all our favorite dishes because food is memory. I was sorry we missed Rito’s of the Baguio beef shank bulalo soup because we couldn’t find its new location. I really wanted Sachi to taste it because it was the dish I had craved for during the first trimester when I was pregnant with her. I ate it every day for two weeks and then I moved on to native green mangoes from Pangasinan. ‘Lihi’ is one of those Filipino mysteries no one can explain: why do pregnant women crave the strangest things? Some say the body craves food with the nutrients it needs to have a healthy pregnancy; others say it’s only meant to get the attention of our partners. Whatever it is, I did have the excessive food cravings for both my pregnancies. But I didn’t demand any extra attention from anyone else to satisfy them. Always the DIY kind of woman that I am, hormones notwithstanding.

On our last day in Baguio City, we had to go to the market again to replace some of the stolen goods. Got the second crucifix for cheaper with my sad story, but the carving on the first one was really finer. Part of me wished I had more time to visit the secondhand clothes shops, but I remembered that I was through with buying discarded clothes.

No, it wasn’t quite the disaster it had threatened to be. Every disaster is, after all, a matter of vulnerability. But after eight years, surely I had prepared myself for the onslaught of memories and the actual friction caused by our inherent differences. I was an outlier in that family and nothing was going to change that. All I wanted to focus on at that point was finally moving forward.

Going back there somehow showed me how. What my children and I lost in Baguio City was only the sunk cost someone had to pay.

And like I had learned before in Baguio, when we left the transient house, I called out to our karkarma spirits, “Umay kan, Jhoanna, Sachi, Raz! Agawiden! Awan mabat-bati!” Time to go home; no one gets left behind.


 

Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz teaches creative writing in UP Mindanao. This essay appears in her memoir, Abi Nako, Or So I Thought, published recently by the UP Press. The book, revolving around the first ten years of rebuilding her life in Davao City after the end of her marriage, is available in Shopee and Lazada.

 

 

Musica

Nonfiction by | November 16, 2020

I gazed at the keyboard at the center of the room. It was almost three o’clock in the afternoon.  Our mentor told us to study the timbre of the instrument, according to our assigned range. I have always secretly wondered about what musicians, physicists and other academicians alike have postulated through the centuries—the miracle of the octave —or the sole existence of seven notes in a given scale beginning from C-D-E-F-G-A-B and back to C, where C would both become the lowest note of the former group, and the highest sound of the succeeding register that should have followed the prescribed melody thereof.

 

Cantare

Weekends meant a series of songs across the radio, cassette records sprawled on the floor, and the unending kinesthetic trills for exhaling a rhythm of sighs, a curious attempt at words.

I began singing when I was two years old. I would stand on a chair, grab the microphone from Papa and follow the melody of the song. I would gaze at the letters shaded in shifting hues. Instinctively, I somehow understood that the changing of the colors and letters from white to blue meant that the said phrase should be sung right away, soon, soon enough before the advent of the forward replay, the compulsory slideshow of geographic graces in the punctus of words.

Perhaps I inherited this love of music from my parents. Papa had been working as an educator yet he also had an established reputation for singing. Since his childhood years, he had joined a lot of singing contests in Surigao del Sur. I remembered seeing Papa’s collection of records from Philippine male singers like Ariel Rivera and Martin Nievera. For almost a decade, Mama had been the conductor of a flute orchestra group in an elementary school in Calinan. She was a music teacher. She would also be the voice mentor whenever the school had to send participants for the solo voice competitions.

“Yabag man no,” a relative said about the way I would project the song with my own conventions of so-fa syllables. I was only a child but I somehow understood that yabag meant one who could not follow with the realm of performers in the established music world, the world of 97 million and counting songs.

“Ma, gusto nako mag voice lessons,” I told Mama years ago.

“ Ayaw lang kay basin madaot ang…” Mama ended her reply with a facial expression that would translate to a “no.”

I understood my mother had her fears, although I could not see and comprehend those fears in full. I contemplated on her reply. I could not help but feel disappointed. I surmised that the purpose of learning vocal techniques was to execute proper voice projection and modulation while singing. Training, I thought, would help me use my voice at the proper vocal placement, at the right time.

 

Da capo

I joined a band without the knowledge of my parents. It was not like they would disapprove of it. I just wanted to keep this one from them first. Olga, my kababata, the bassist, welcomed me to the QWERTY PAD Band.

In January 2013, the school celebrated the annual Spanish month. There were several competitions for the Spanish month celebration—one of which was the Battle of the Bands. Our band had agreed to join. We began to meet for our primary consideration: the song choice. For the Battle of the Bands, each group must perform a three to four-minute song presentation in Spanish. We had the option to research songs from Spain or in Latin-American countries, or to find songs from the American pop genre with an equivalent Spanish version. We decided to go with the latter.

Since our band had been practicing with pop songs, we figured out that we had to limit our choices on that specific genre. One of us suggested the song, “We Are Young” by Fun. The song happened to be one of the most popular songs in International charts at that time. The original performer of the song was a male singer. Consequently, the structure of the song by default would go for the male voice—which could be too low for us to sing, in terms of the key. Lan, one of our guitarists, initiated the job of arranging the song. The instrumentalists adjusted their pitch accordingly.

As vocalists, we had the work of mastering the lyrics. It was difficult for us to practice the song because it was in Spanish. We had our Spanish classes but performing a song in the said language was completely an indescribably different experience. The Spanish sound had its distinct tone, nuances, and effect. We scoured the worldwide web, showing different vocal artists across the globe. We spent weeks, filling up the practice studios with quel, el, sols like some form an obligatory overnight stint of recitation for the upcoming examinations.

Vi played the keyboard.  Shane hit the drums.

During the performance, my co-vocalist and I took our turns in singing the verses of “Somos Jovenes.” I looked at Tine, my co-vocalist. I noticed that one of us had forgotten the correct lyrics. On the flip side, the syllables sounded the same. The good thing was, all these lyrics dilemma happened at the last two lines of the song. One of us covered up for it by singing the part in an improvised tune—by singing some parts a bit higher than the other so that the voices would clash and blend accordingly, producing a contrast, an edge to the timbre of the collective voice.

I seemed to have forgotten we were in a competition. I looked at the crowd. The panel of judges nodded. Everyone gave us a round of applause.

We won second place. All our hard-work paid off.

 

Eco

I joined the pageant, Mutya ng Calinan 2017, on 3 August 2017. One of the segments I had to prepare for was the Talent Portion. I thought of giving a song performance right away. Weeks before the pageant, my cousins had asked me about the material I would choose for the show. As much as possible, I wanted the performance to be an exclusive space between the audience and me. I only wanted to create a brief presentation, to tell a story.

I have the option of singing ballad songs, since that was the genre I have always been comfortable with. I limited my choices to Original Filipino Music because I desired to perform a song that the majority of the audience could relate to. To me, there would always be a sense of magic in listening to Filipino love songs. The language itself had romantic nuances.

There were hundreds of love songs in Filipino music. The choices were overwhelming. One may think that a favorite song or the fight song should be the option. Song choices should not be as difficult as their execution. However, I thought and I felt that a song choice should not be too close or too far from the performer. Otherwise, the execution would be put at stake. If a performer would be too close with the song, these possible situations might happen: the performer might steal the limelight from the song, and tamper with the execution, or break down in tears in the middle of the performance, only a few sighs before the dimming of the lights on the stage.

If a performer would be too estranged from the song, the performance might sound like a formulaic, robotic utterance.  There would be no sense of dramaturgy, no genuine hold for the song.

One advice I would hear the esteemed musicians say to the contestants of televised singing competitions would be the lesson on song choices. Songs should always sound genuine. The sincerity of the performance was one factor that would give the whole performance a distinct texture. The sincerity of the performance, one of the panel of judges had said, could only be achieved when the performer truly comprehends all that is in a song.

One never had to experience the scenario inscribed in the lyrics to understand it, I have always believed. Reading books would prove to be one of the best avenues where a person could sharpen their understanding of life. Here, the reader, would somehow feel the tangibility of the world she had been trying to discern. The power of literature had the inexplicable thrust of creating the illusion where the readers, in a peculiar way, would find themselves juxtaposed with that of the narrative, seeing what the character sees, hearing what the characters hear, and experiencing all the sensation present in the piece, somewhere in their private domain.

I have read literature about love stories inside and outside classes. Love, in the context of our classroom discussions, was a complex term to have a single, universal definition. Alice Munro’s “Carried Away”, for example, had shown the complexities of love, and of human relationships. The novella had depicted Louisa’s passing, fleeting life. Louisa had brief, romantic relationship with a soldier whom she had never met in person. They would keep on writing letters to each other. That was literally love in a time in a war. Months later, Louisa would soon find out that Jack had married another woman. The years came in a flash. Jack died because of an accident. Louisa married Arthur, a businessman, the owner of a piano factory. They had children; they had a good life.  Louisa was in her old age when she witnessed a procession of soldiers in the streets. She mistook one person with Jack. That was one of the highest turning points in the story.  All these years, Jack may have left her hanging on hopes. Jack may have married. She may have married. But what they once had would never be forgotten.  Jack never lost his private sphere in her life, even after all those years.

Lost love. How could a person leave just like that? How could one thing that began in the most unexpected of ways end so soon? How could one feel something and be unable to fight for it? How could one fail to choose the one who have given them a sense of life, of death, at the same time? How could one move forward and leave the other, hanging on a loose tread, standing on the fine line? How could one remember all that there is, all that there was, all that there could be in a person, after all those years of scourge?

I could choose a song, a popularized song, with a similar theme—with the themes of the complexities of loving we had studied and thoroughly discussed in class.

I chose Jona’s version of “Pusong Ligaw.” This was not to say that the song would be my automatic “theme-song-on-mind” for the literary pieces I had read in class. I chose the song for its popularity, and for the theme, which I thought I had clearly understood.  Even the song itself was quite poetic. The lines, “Ikaw at ako/isinulat sa mga bituin/at ang langit sa /gabi ang sumasalamin/” caught me. The lovers themselves were likened to the stars, lost in the conventions of their private realm, their secret universe.

 

I almost literally froze in front of the audience. I missed the first three seconds of the song. That was not the first song performance in a competition I had, but it seemed to me that even a little experience could barely counter the advent of the frenzy of nervousness taunting me.  Still I knew I had to continue. The song had played. The panel of judges, and the audience had surrendered their gazes on stage.

“Di kita malimutan/ Sa mga gabing nagdaan/Ikaw ang pangarap/nais kong makamtan/ sa buhay ko ay/ ikaw ang kahulugan…”

 

The lights dimmed after the last note. The lights lit up the stage once more. The succession of these lights had scheduled the beginning of the performances. The lights marked the end of the show.

 

Third runner-up. My first major pageant experience ended well, after all.

 

Forzando

Ayaw na pag join, lisod gud,” one of the auditionees said to me in a worried tone after her turn. I was surprised to hear her words. She left right away. I had the slight idea that it would be difficult. All auditions were meant to test the aspirant’s skill, to the limit or close.

I gazed at the application form. There were blank spaces to be filled out. Some of these spaces were allotted for personal information. I wrote pertinent details accordingly. On the lower center corner of the paper, I saw the criteria for judging: voice quality, intonation, and diction.  Ratings, I supposed, would be done from one to five—one would be the lowest score, five would be the highest. At the bottom part of the form, I saw the marks: S1, S2, A1, A2, T1, T2, B1, and B2. I went on and asked the registration officer about these codes.

“Those are voice classifications. You will know your voice classification after the pitch test,” she said.

I did not think of participating in the auditions in my first year in College. I was too pre-occupied with trying to deal with the new world I was engrossed in. I was still a struggling Architecture student then. Years passed by and I still found myself too busy in academics. At the last minute, I honestly second-guessed the chorale auditions. I could not help but think I could be too late for one.

A representative of the choir called me inside. After the introduction, the conductor told me to start singing whenever I would be ready. Once again, I froze in front of the choir members. One of the section leaders said that I could sing, facing the wall instead. I was about to turn my back when a sudden thought occurred my mind—I wanted to see the reaction on their faces so I would have a slight idea about the quality of my performance for the night.

I performed Mandy Moore’s “Only Hope” and Morisette Amon’s “Akin ka na lang.” I chose those songs because I have been singing them for quite a long time. After which, the conductor told me to repeat the notes he would play on the keyboard. That was the pitch test, I heard the choir members said. I tried to follow the melody I heard in the room.

Some of the choir members nodded as I sang.

“We will just notify you via text if you are qualified to join the University Choir,” one of the resident singers said.

Giusto

Out of the 21 qualified applicants, only seven of us remained for the initiation rites of the UP Mindanao Koro Kantahanay Overture Concert. There were two new performers each for the Soprano, Tenor, and Bass groups, and one for the Alto group. I did not know what had happened to the other applicants. I just heard that some of them had jobs to attend to, academic tasks to attend to, and so on and so forth. The remaining applicants underwent note-reading, quartet-singing, and individual singing exams.

I sung “Minsan lang kitang Iibigin” composed by Aaron Paul Del Rosario, for the solo exams.

“You’re in,” the resident singers told me.

For more than 15 years, the UP Mindanao Koro Kantahanay had been showing the annual Overture. Choral baptism, as what the resident singers, called would feature the debut of the qualified applicants.

All overtures had their theme. Kapayapaan (Peace) and Pangandoy (Dreams) were some of the former themes, and consequently, the titles for the past concerts. During our rehearsals, the choir president used our break session to start a meeting about the coming overture.

The repertoire of songs could be categorized into three: Religious songs, the love songs, and the indigenous folk music. All of the songs, to me, had one dominating, all-encompassing theme. That was desire—desire in all its forms: the desire to find God, the desire for love, the desire for peace.

I gave my suggestions for the title of the show. “Tinguha,” is the Cebuano word for desire. Jacques Lacan, whom we had encountered in our Critical Literature classes, posited that desire, through the times, has fueled people from creating indices of pursuits to fill in the void that exists within.  The text was premised on the notion that people have been in constant search to fill up the ‘lack’ or “gap” in their beings amidst the calm, the chaos, and the contrasts of the world—rejoicings, political unrests, wars, unity, persecutions, inclusivity, onslaught of diseases, healings.

“Te, pwede ka maghimo og spoken word para sa overture? Magtugtog ko og violin te samtang naga perform ka,”the conductor said, requesting me to present a spoken word performance for the introduction stint of the overture.  He told me that he would play the violin for the accompaniment of the piece.

I titled my work, “Kandila” (candle) which was my metaphor for desire. I recited the lines, complementing the music from the violin.

Mental block came.

I took a brief pause.

I heard some people in the audience said, “hala, nakalimot siya,” in a worried tone. I did face acting and created lines in front of the stage. Fortunately, I did not forget my last stanza:

“Ang hangin /sa imo milubong/apan dili niini mapalong/ang imong mga hunghong.

I gazed at the conductor to signal him that it was the end of my spoken word performance for the night.

 

Accelerando

“The song should sound fragile,” one of the choir members said, upon the distribution of the music sheets.

The choir president and I shifted positions. I transferred to the last row of Soprano singers, beside the singers from the Alto group. Before my chorale stint, I thought that the performers could just stand anywhere they wanted to. I understood that in certain songs, they had to sing beside their section mates. I never thought that in every section, each performer must be carefully arranged.

I am (technically) a Mezzo Soprano but during choral gigs, I would be frequently assigned as either Soprano 1 or Soprano 2, with two other (one lyric and one dramatic) Sopranos respectively. Almost in every presentation, I would be positioned at the leftmost or the rightmost corner of our section, depending on the required dominant tone color. The arrangement of performers, I surmised, could be likened to the arrangement of scenes in a literary work.

I remembered Leo Tolstoy’s words, “Art is thinking in images.” The primary concern of the artist, in the context of writing Poetry, would be the arrangement of these images. The arrangement of these images would demand for a specific language for its execution; the arrangement of these images could affect the musicality of the poem, and consequently dictate the structure of meaning as well.

This was Musikahan 2018 contest piece: “She Dwelt Upon the Untrodden Ways” by William Wordsworth (Music by Ralph Hoffman, 2008).

William Wordsworth, the key figure of the Romanticism, opined that “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.”  Poetry then, became an avenue for the lyricists to vent out all their passions, their grief, their dread, and their ecstasy in the boulders of verse.

The persona began with a description of a “She” said to live upon the untrodden ways. The phrase, “lived upon the untrodden ways” could be taken both literally and figuratively. The untrodden ways meant a place in the country, a place barely mapped, a place almost unknown, a place, close to being non-existent. The untrodden ways were neither bright nor spectacular. The untrodden ways could mean an unlikely, unfamiliar, homely way of life. No one would desire such place at first sight.  In the second verse, the persona likened the woman to a violet by a mossy stone. To the voice, she was the grace amidst the cull of the dull. The last verse confirmed my suspicion that the poem was a lover’s deep recollection of all that was, of all that could be in their love. At this point, Lucy had left.  To the public, her death was as mundane as the thousands of deaths that had reminded all the passport to the end of human existence. But to the voice, the circumstance was among all of Lucy’s dusks and twilights which he had the unending thrust to witness with utmost fidelity to every movement, every silence, all the music present in the scene, from afar.

We sang the song, from dusk till almost dawn.

Repeat. Repeat this line.

Mistakes would always be an inevitable enemy during practices. No one should forget the lyrics. No face should look robotic. No section should sound louder than it should. No one should feel “lost” in the middle of the rising of sounds.

Harmony, not competition must prevail.

“Again,” the conductor said.

Instead of giving our collective sighs, we went on singing our assigned parts in the music sheet.

 

Brioso

“Entry number 1,” the Masters of the Ceremonies announced. Guests, performers, and chorale competitors across the region have come, filling up the four corners of the music hall. I tried to control my tears as our group slowly made our trek to the battle stage. I prayed to God. I invoked the intercession of Saint Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Musicians, hours before the show.

The conductor played the first note on the keyboard.

I gazed some distance past the stage, lifted my inaudible sigh, and imagined the untrodden ways that had become the lovers’ secret constellation, until death bid them the cyclophonic goodbye.

She dwelt upon the untrodden ways/ Beside the springs of Dove…

Seven choirs had given the rendition of the contest piece. Before the announcement of winners, the Maters of the Ceremonies requested all of the chorale groups to occupy the stage. The conductor from the second entry went toward the center, raised his arms in the air, and gestured a signal for the momentum of the orbit of sounds. I saw Ralph Hoffman’s face lit up from the moment all of the Tenor performers exhaled the introductory notes, to the juncture of the harmony of tones at the singing of “the difference… to me.”

“The winners are…”

Group 1 from UP Mindanao ata madaug pud,” I heard one singer from a different chorale group remarked after the collective singing of the contest piece.

After moments of drum rolls, three schools were announced as Champion, First Placer, and Second Placer, respectively. The chorale groups, who have competed and won in international chorale competitions received this year’s top three spots.

To me, the goal was not to win, to emerge as the champion. Giving dignified representation to our University Chorale and rendering a performance with great passion in our hearts was more than enough.

“At this juncture, the choirs will be requested to occupy specific seating areas. The panel of judges shall walk around the hall, visit one group at a time, and give their respective impressions of the performances,” the Master of the Ceremonies said.

The drill reminded me of Creative Writing workshops, where all of the Literature majors would be compelled to hear comments from the mentors and co-students after the submission of their manuscripts. Except that this time, there were no white type-written sheets stained in red ink or green. The hues for marking would always be dependent upon the teacher’s prerogative.

 

Sir Ralph Hoffman, the composer of the contest piece, and a member of the panel of judges for the competition, held our rating sheet on his hands. Almost all of my choir-mates occupied the front row. I had no choice but to stay at the back of them. Hoffman spoke. I could barely hear his voice. The hall was filled with all kinds of post-competition utterances: the discussions of the winning choirs, the microphone reminders for the series of programs outside the hall, the murmurings of hosts, the audience giving out their critical remarks of the seven acts, and the full-force modulation of mood setter music on the stereo, setting the background score of the day’s episode.

I heard some points about our group tempo. The rest were a blur. I tried to move closer but to no avail. What I merited from the gesture was the view of our contest score. It was above average. From the zero mark, we reached the above average cut-off. To me, the score could already be considered a gift. Although we did not win a spot in the competition, I could not help but feel at peace with the results. I was contented about the quality of our performance. In fact, some of the former conductors of Koro had given the remark that this year’s batch had a distinct, highly textured timbre—the timbre, which could be our pathwalk to defined doors of ten-fold more music ruminations.

“There is no other way around but up,” Sir Arwin Tan, one of the judges, said to us, in his closing statement.

 

Coda

The year 2020 arrived. History would remember the year 2020 as the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. News of daily deaths had marked calendars and grids worldwide. Community quarantines were a common sight. The economic pitfalls, hunger, political, and socio-civic unrests had added to the taxonomy of pre-existing and perpetual social sorrows the world has known.

 

Where do music stand in these times?

Musicians and music enthusiasts alike have spent their hours inside their homes writing songs, recording their band sessions, composing music, and creating and managing online communities with fellow musicians.  Online concerts and Zoom recitals were a common sight. Music, to some, has been a source of living.  To the others, music has always been the way to make sense of present realities. Music has somehow provided a sense of “healing” for the soul, a sense of hope and refuge in the unfortunate times we live in.

 

Day job and evening classes helped me not to lose track of my days. I haven’t been doing anything related to music, except for listening to a study music whenever I would face office computers or read my codals, books, commentaries, and cases for law school. I haven’t been joining in the music ministry services of the Vox Optivus Chorale, our church choir in the Immaculate Concepcion Parish because my parents deemed it safer for me to participate in online Masses than go to the Church physically. I was not sure whether our university choir had (online) musical stints this year as well.

 

Since I could not join our choir, I have resolved to writing lyrics instead. I desired to try to add new lines to the scribbles I wrote on my old music notebook from my elementary years. The unfortunate thing was, I could not locate the old notebook where I have written them. The least I could do was to reconstruct the songs from memory. But I felt rewriting the songs would turn them into new ones, instead of trying to preserve the old codes I had on hand.

 

I gazed at the keyboard in the center of the room. I knew I needed a break.  I could start somewhere; an image could trigger a memory. Perhaps when I would go for a coffee at dawn, or face both paved and unpaved lanes home, all of nature will have sung their inevitable chorus, somehow, in the absence of words.

 

In faith, I spent the rest of the sunset, gazing across the skylines for a new wave of inspirations.

 


Joanna Paula M. Cagape is a law student from the University of Southeastern Philippines School of Law. She is an advocate for women and children’s rights.

Timyas ng Dapithapon

Interview, Nonfiction by | October 19, 2020

May kakaibang hatak ang dapithapon sa aking kalooban. Para itong pagbabadya ng katapusan ng isang buong araw ng pakikibaka at pakikisalamuha. Panahon na para ipahinga ang pagal na isipan at katawan at harapin ang panibagong bukang-liwayway na may buo at bagong sigla.

Ang pagsabog ng samu’t saring kulay sa alapaap – pula, dilaw, lila, abo, luntian, asul, kahel, atbp. ay tila paghahabi ng Dakilang Lumikha ng kanyang obra maestra sa buong kapaligiran. Habang minamasid ang pag-iiba ng kulay ay magkahalong pagkamangha at pagpapatiwasay ng kalooban ang nadarama habang unti-unting binabalot ang araw ng gabi. Mamaya lamang at magsisilabasan na ang mga kumukutikutitap na mga tala at ang maliwanag na buwan.

Ang marahang hampas ng hanging-amihan habang nakatuon sa dapithapon ay dampi sa puso. Dahan-dahang lumalamig ang panahon. Oras na para magmuni-muni. Mag-iisip ng kung anu-anong bagay – ang mga nagawa, ang mga gagawin, mga tagumpay at kabiguan sa buhay, mga mahal sa buhay, at isang libu’t isang isipan ang namumutawi habang minamasdan ang paglubog ng araw. Kakaiba ito sa pagsalubong sa bukang-liwayway na tila nagsisilakbo sa init at may nakaatang na mabigat na gawain sa mga susunod na oras.

Ang hampas ng alon sa dalampasigan habang nakatingala sa langit ay tila oyayi na musika sa pandinig. Magkahalong lumbay, kapanatagan sa kalooban at pagpapasalamat sa Diyos sa kagandahan ng kalikasang nakaharap sa iyong paningin. Ang alon ay parang isang mapanghalina na gayumang humahatak sa iyo na samahan siya sa pag-indayog at paglutang sa karagatan bago tuluyang balutan ng kadiliman ang buong kapaligiran.

Habang tinitingnan ang dapithapon, patuloy akong namamangha sa kalawakan ng sansinukob at katiwasayan sa kalooban na dulot nito. Higit sa lahat, sa kadakilaan at kakayahan ng Diyos na makalikha ng kagandahan na tanging sa Kanyang makapangyarihang mga Kamay lamang maisasakatuparan.

 


Melchor is School Director of Davao Chong Hua High School.  He finished his Master of Education from UP Diliman and is working towards his PhD in Education (Major in Educational Administration) at the same university.  He has visited the whole Philippines from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi, and only recently moved to Davao.

The Hunt for ‘IH’ — An Excerpt from “The Battle of Marawi”

Nonfiction by | October 12, 2020

To order a copy of The Battle of Marawi, please go to facebook.com/thebattleofmarawi and follow the pinned instructions for payment and delivery. For the ebook version, please visit pawikanpress.selz.com and follow the payment instructions. Readers in Mindanao may also visit facebook.com/pawikanpress to purchase copies in Cagayan de Oro City and Davao City.

It was almost midnight of May 22, a Wednesday, when Com1 held them up. May niluluto pa. Something is being cooked up. Apparently, new ‘intel’ was on its way. The subject of the meeting was about a target.

In Marawi, it seemed like just another ordinary day, as the people began preparing for the start of Ramadan four days hence.

Azalea thought that, in the spire of events running though his mind in the past days, it might be more about the Maute brothers. Their latest assignment had been a step-up from a series of military operations and other incidents taking place in the province since 2014. When he was put on hold again, Army intelligence officers were planning to raid a politician’s safe house where Abdullah Maute was supposed to be hiding, in the vicinity of the campus of Mindanao State University. Something was really going on but they could not pin it down. That it was Com1, no other, calling for the meeting brought Azalea to the conclusion that it was a bigger target than he thought. A plan was to be executed and a final briefing was to be held early the following day, Thursday of May 23.

Continue reading The Hunt for ‘IH’ — An Excerpt from “The Battle of Marawi”