Interloping The Real And Surreal In Creating Fiction

Nonfiction by | April 24, 2016

The title of my talk seems awesome but I will avoid any heavy literary term and speak to you from the heart; and since you are young writers seeking to create masterpieces through your fiction or poetry, I will share with you my earliest attempt at short-story writing. Strangely enough, these attemps have become my most anthologized stories – “The Chieftest Mourner” and “Love in the Cornhusks”.

Soon after the war, my mother put me on a rice truck over dark mountains from Bacolod where my father was a retired judge to Silliman University in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental.

Silliman was a close-knit scholarly community with huge shady trees lining its avenues and the park with an ampitheatre where we held the first Shakespeare plays – in 1946 “The Taming of the Shrew” where I was Kate the Shrew; and in 1948 ”As You Like it” where I transform from Lady Rosalind to the page Ganymede in the Forest of Arden. Reuben Canoy played the princely Orlando.

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A Formula for Rising from the Nadir of the Times

Nonfiction by | January 17, 2016

(Editor’s Note: I received a hard copy of this piece from Tita Lacambra-Ayala, who had unearthed it from her files but we do not have the date when it was written. Still, I think Aida Ford’s message remains relevant to the present time.)

We live in absolutely horrendous times, and the only certainty we have is that when we think we have hit the very bottom—the nadir—we haven’t. The nadir is yet to be reached.

How do we rise above these trying times? The resiliency of Filipinos is best manifested by our ability to face the greatest shock with humor. But humor alone or escapism will not solve the situation. Is there really hope for us? What can I say to you? One super-qualification that I have is a panoramic perspective of the Pandora’s box: to live with the good and its disasters; its ideals and actualities; its moments of glory and its deep depression.

In youth, my generation had the experience of looking up to leaders like Quezon, Osmena, and Roxas; of being part of a system where the leaders made it possible for training of others to take over as leaders. I cannot say the same for the present system. Neither in bureaucracy nor in education.

My generation also had the experience of facing up to a World War with its patriotic fervor and its deprivation of freedom; with its high excitement in moments of risk and its fears and anxiety and tragedy of loss of property and loved ones. (I lost a brother in Capas and my father was in and out of the Kempeitai.) But through all this there was hope that we would regain the freedom that we so palpably missed—the freedom to express ourselves without fear of repression or disappearing without a gasp or trace into the night.

In retrospect, the war was a crucible that crystallized values. What were the things one cannot do without? What are the things worth risking life and property for?

Then we had the experience of rehabilitations. We took seriously the “Back to the Farm” movement advocated by Roxas and Osias. That’s how our family came to Davao. We plunged into abaca production and ramie, relying on government promises of a steady market. What the experience taught us was that we should not rely on whatever pet project the government advocates. What succeeded in post-war Davao was hard work and endurance; private enterprise and the Chinese concept of setting aside working capital, never drawing on it for clothes, cars, expensive houses. What was meant for farming or business was kept intact. Only then could we compete with the Chinese—by emulating the Chinese way of life.

The experience of studying abroad gave me added insights on the nature of my own identity. By contrast and through what we miss do we gauge the Filipino in us. There is also that stimulus and challenge to show one’s worth in the face of so much impersonality and competition. I had the exhilaration of winning a major prize in fiction from the University of Michigan.

Then after getting married I had the experience of a sojourn in Korea, a war-torn country split artificially into the Communist North and the supposedly Democratic South. Korea in 1958 was as depressing as its coal-blackened buildings and the suicidal look on the faces of the people due to tyranny and corruption in government. When I revisited Korea in 1978, twenty years after my sojourn there, I saw tremendous progress, unusual change from an individualistic, pushy way of life to one of order and organization; from corruption as a way of life to a disciplined society.

My experience in education—teaching at what was then the Mindanao Colleges, and then the Armed Forces School of the University of Maryland, the University of Mindanao, and the Ateneo de Davao University, and finally setting up the Learning Center of the Arts in 1980, now the Ford Academy of the Arts, Inc. I learned that teaching by example is still a very effective way in education. One can never inculcate a work ethic or a creative way of life by standing in the sidelines giving instructions. I learned that some enjoy working alone and some enjoy working in groups. But joy makes work light, whatever the obstructions are.

On that note, we enter the experience in Marcos’s time, of the Philippines being “martialized.” More and more, joy became an alien experience, but suddenly a new awesome phenomenon confronted us: the phenomenon of the parliament of the streets imposing its own discipline—a parliament of professionals and students and housewives and workers standing up for principle in peaceful manifestation of the worth of the human being. That was indeed beautiful.

Yet a time comes when man or woman must give expression to the very deep-seated desire for beauty and truth and justice—the old verities that have motivated the great arts of the world, from Neolithic man’s attempt to express movement, energy, and a moment in time in his cave-drawings of animals and men to the marvels of the monumental architecture of the Egyptians and the Mayans, to the glories of Greek architecture and sculpture, literature and philosophy to the Roman structures and the Gothic spires pointing straight up to heaven and then to the Renaissance focus on the person again—in our God-given magnificence. No amount of repression can really keep artists from expressing themselves, as in the work of Picasso, Goya, and Diego Rivera. I’m not saying that art should be revolutionary. Art for the most part can be enjoyed for itself. The design does not have to mean something. But whatever artists express in painting or sculpture or architecture or music or literature, they must be true to themselves.

What must we do to bring ourselves up from the nadir of the times?

First, we must face up to the problems of the times squarely, honestly, and with humor, if possible.

Second, we can learn from our mistakes and take a tip from countries or people who have sunk into deeper holes and resuscitated themselves.

Third, we must depend solely on ourselves and not depend on government assistance or initiative nor on outside loans. Old Filipino common sense tells us to borrow only what we can pay back; spend only what we can afford. If we see an opening out of the hold, let’s find a way to get everyone out without trampling on each other. Let us stop the cycle of corruption by beginning with ourselves.

Fourth, when faced with oppression, let us have the courage to take a stance, singly or in groups. Let us assert our humanity.

Last, when we reach the bottom, let us not lose hope. We trust that our built-in moral and spiritual values will sustain us for the hard climb up.

Aida Rivera Ford is a founding member of the Davao Writers Guild and president of the Ford Academy of the Arts, Inc. She celebrates her 87th birthday on 22 January 2016.

Letters from Bengt, My Swedish Love

Nonfiction by | March 28, 2010

Fifty-two years after our last correspondence, at the age of 80, I discovered while delving into an old bureau a box of sepia-colored love letters—42 in all, with addresses from different parts of the world over a space of four years, 1955 to 1958, from Bengt Birgander, a very blond Swedish seaman whose fervent love for me was undeniable.

We had tried so desperately to get married after a shipboard romance on the freighter MS Mangalore where I was the only female on board carrying my Fordomatic car from New York through the Panama Canal to LA and across the Pacific to Manila—or a total of one month and a week.

In my soon to be published autobiography, I have a chapter on “My Super-blond Swedish Love” where I recount how I finally opened my cabin door to him but refused to give up my virginity. One of Bengt’s letters gives his views on that.

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Some Assorted Maniacs I Know

Nonfiction by | December 6, 2009

It seems to me that the whole village is just crawling with them—neighbors, professionals, government employees, even my own kin—lilintian! I don’t know how I’ve managed to live this old and managed to escape from these assorted maniacs and a fate worse than death, although I’ve seen many who have enjoyed that fate worse than …. But I caught myself from being repetitious. Yes, once a teacher always a teacher, and although I’ve been an English supervisor these five years now I still teach the rules of composition better than any of them—better than these new tissle-tassle methods that lead to nowhere! But back to these assorted maniacs. Why, even in our school there’s that Mr. Jover. Don’t ever make the mistake of letting him take you home. Oh, not even with a group—unless you make sure you don’t sit beside him because, Blessed Arkangel! he has a way of maneuvering-maneuvering and before you know it he’ll have his paws right on your blossoms quite by improbable accident. Or you’ll feel an arm pass by through your hip. His maneuvering is quite famous and he makes no discrimination between young and old, plain or pretty, so that you can’t even feel complimented by it. Why, even Mrs. Olarte the very staid Super from Manila was a victim of this maneuvering, and if it were not such an awkward thing to put on paper, she would have recommended his demotion. What would happen to poor Mrs. Jover who is such a pretty but nervous little wife who is hardly seen at all, what with her nine children—and some more coming, you can be sure. You’d think he would be satisfied with that? But no, some men are never, never satisfied—nor some women, for that matter.

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Martial Memories

Nonfiction by | August 16, 2009

Now that the Cory Fever is sweeping the country pandemically, memories of the horrid Martial Law years invade my consciousness.

It was declared soon after my return from a Kyoto Conference on American Literature and my flying over the whole Russian continent without seeing any city or village en route to England, Paris, Greece, Italy, and Thailand. I was Humanities Division Chairman at the Ateneo de Davao University and was Moderator of the ATENEWS, the college paper. The year before, I had discovered a brilliant freshman—Evella Bontia who out-stripped the upperclassmen in my search for ATENEWS editor. A staffmember was a quiet girl with the surname Mahipus. In my literature class, a senior—Tiny de la Paz—was expected to receive summa cum laude honors.

What greater shock it was when the ATENEWS office was raided because of an article entitled “Portrait of the Atenean as Activist.” Ms. Mahipus and Mr. de la Paz were incarcerated at the PC barracks. Evella Bontia escaped to the hills and later was reported killed in an encounter with military forces. What a loss!

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The Bullet-Ridden Agong

Nonfiction by | September 23, 2007

By a great coincidence, the title I chose for the American overkill that occurred eighty years ago on a hill outside Jolo town matched that of the recent Tausug youth musical theatre entitled “Ang Antigong Agong.” These very creative descendants of a massacre by the American military of more than 1,000 Moros at Bud Dahu recreated symbolically through the search for the antique agong the agony and psychological black-out still lurking in the Moro soul.

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