I've resisted putting one up for some time, because all my good friends have one, and I really didn't feel I had much to say that they couldn't say admirably in their own blogs. After all, we hang out together, we work on the same projects, we like a lot of the same things. Plus, my adored husband Dean, who is a multi-awarded, internationally-acclaimed writer (Damn him!), has a blog of his own, in which he talks about many of the events and non-events that happen in our lives. So I kind of figured, what's the point?
Then I watched Matrix Reloaded. And I hated it sooo extremely much that I actually seriously considered having a blog for the first time, just so I could rant to a wider audience what a horrendous waste of film that travesty was. Upon reflection, though, it seemed like a somewhat vindictive reason, so I put the idea off for a while.
Until now, since I've decided, at the ripe old age of 30, that it's time to attempt writing my first (Talk about optimistic!) novel. It seems to me that periodically publishing segments as I go along is the perfect goad to make me stick with it until the (hopefully not too) bitter end. And while I'm at it, I might as well use the convenient forum to express my opinions, musings, ideas, flights of fancy, discoveries, and whatnot to someone other than my husband, my guys, and my 18-month-old daughter, who is now doubtlessly befuddled and forever destined to despise the Wachowski brothers.
So here it is. Hope it works for you.
If you were to ask my mother, she would tell you that the story of our family began on a moonlit river in Cagayan, when my great-grandparents set out on an ill-considered midnight boat ride, and were consequently attacked, overturned, and devoured by an opportunistic man-eating crocodile.
(I was never quite certain whether she was referring to Cagayan Valley or Cagayan de Oro, which ought to tell you a little something about the kind of person I am. I was always too caught up in the whys and the hows of the tale to worry about important details like when and exactly where. I was utterly entranced with the couple in the boat, the romance in the dark, the blood in the water… which, if you think about it, is really not the most auspicious way for anyone’s story to have to begin.)
My grandfather’s name was Emmanuel, and after the death of his parents, he was raised by his father’s sister, a maiden aunt who was as kindly and caring a guardian as any boy could hope for, but who unfortunately knew next to nothing about the practicalities of running a plantation. So although he’d been born the heir to one of the largest fortunes in whatever that province actually was, by the time Lolo Emmanuel was sixteen, he and his aunt were impoverished, having lost most of the land and nearly all of the money that was his birthright.
Fortunately, Iling (as he was then called) had three assets that no moneylender or crooked foreman could take away from him: a sharp mind, and two fighting fists that were the bane of many an amateur boxer at the local American-run high school. Lacking the money for a proper college tuition, he made up his mind to either take up a career in pugilism, or win a free college education by passing the entrance exams at the Philippine Military Academy, thereby also assuring his future as an officer in the armed forces.
(‘Pugilism’ was my mother’s word. She first told me this story when I was seven, so I had to haul out and consult our enormous family dictionary in order to find out that ‘pugilism’ simply meant ‘boxing’. Thereafter, whenever I would catch a glimpse of Muhammed Ali on TV, I would proudly announce, “Look! A pugilist!” From then on, my mother says, she knew I would become a writer.)
Lolo Emmanuel topped the exams at the Philippine Military Academy, which at the time meant that, instead of entering the PMA, he got to study at West Point in New York, and would, after graduation, receive an automatic commission in the U.S. Armed Forces. Then, even more so than now, any chance for a Filipino to work in the States and earn dollars was regarded as a stroke of fortune roughly analogous to getting an entry pass to the Garden of Eden. So Lolo became quite the celebrity in whichever Cagayan that was; they even held a little parade to celebrate his departure, marching band and all.
Contrary to what you might expect, Iling was far from a fish out of water in New York; in fact, things went swimmingly for him, both academically and socially. Conscious of his great fortune and always intelligent in the first place, he applied himself diligently to his studies and consistently made the honor roll. He changed his nickname to Manny, acquired an East Coast accent in record time, and made a grand splash in the sea of young women who were easily enamored of a man in uniform, even the relatively humble uniform of a military cadet.
Unlike his somewhat rough-mannered American colleagues, Emmanuel knew how to be cariñoso—a Spanish/Filipino trait that means gallant, charming, rakish, affectionate, and pampering, all at the same time. If his white classmates initially looked down on him somewhat, they were soon won over by ‘good ol’ Manny’s’ sure touch with the ladies—and his open-handed willingness to share.
(Obviously, my forefathers must have spoken in some kind of provincial dialect. My father lapses into Ilocano when he's swearing, and my mother and grand-aunt spoke Ibanag when we were kids and they didn’t want us to understand. But ever since Lolo Iling, my family has primarily spoken English, American-accented English. Even though my brothers never went to the States until they were seventeen at the earliest, we all sounded like an episode of the Partridge Family, only with less harmonizing.)
By the time Emmanuel was in his fourth year at West Point, he had achieved practically the pinnacle of young-bachelor-about-town achievement by dating a Ziegfield Follies girl. The Ziegfield Follies was the stage show in New York at the time, which meant that it was pretty much the stage show in all of America. The Follies’ dancing girls were considered to be the sexiest, prettiest, sauciest, most desirable things ever to strut a stage, and certainly too sophisticated to be impressed by a mere cadet’s uniform. It was therefore quite a coup for Manny—who, despite his suaveness, was not rich, not connected, and not white—to have snared one.
He didn’t quite know what to do with her. Her name was Betty, and she was beautiful, with blond hair, blue eyes, and lips painted a screaming red that showed up nicely for bragging rights on his uniform collar. Unfortunately, she was also a small-town girl from Iowa at heart, and dreamt of nothing more than giving up the stage to become Manny’s wife and happy homemaker just as soon as he graduated.
Which was hardly the kind of future Emmanuel had in mind. He himself was a small-town boy, after all, with small-town aspirations that did not include a wife who had already shown off her legs and cleavage to any fellow with the wherewithal to purchase a ticket. Betty was great as the symbol of his success. But as the mother of his children…?
(I never said my grandfather was nice. There’s a lot of not-niceness still to come, in fact, and not even most of it is confined to Lolo Iling. But there’s also going to be love, and glory, and devotion, and even downright heroism once in a while. And the strange thing is that it’s all true. Except for the parts that I made up, which are actually more believable than some of the things that really happened. Which is maybe how everyone’s family is, I don’t know.)