Contradiction in Terms
You say to-may-toe; I say toh-mah-tah. Deal with it.
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Time to Dance

Dean's been getting on my case for never announcing (even to him, sometimes) when I've been published in the occasional periodical. It's not that I don't value these things, really; it's just that I whip the pieces out as quickly as I can once the assignments are passed to me, with the result that I've sort of forgotten about them by the time they come out. In fact, I don't always know when they do come out, which is why I'm hugely grateful to people like Oliver, who inform me when my work has actually seen the light of publication. This one was requested by Oliver to publicize the musical Footloose, and came out in last Sunday's Philippine Star.

Which of course I didn't get to buy, having been comatose the whole morning from karaoke-ing into the wee hours on Saturday. Ay, me, as Shakespeare would say.
I used to dance alone in my room when I was eleven years old. This was an absolute deadly secret—I would make sure that the seven other people (plus assorted household help) I lived with at the time were either all out of the house, or so preoccupied that they could not be bothered to investigate even the skull-smashing racket which I then considered to be the minimum volume necessary to achieve listening pleasure.

Hey, I told you I was eleven at the time, didn’t I? I was so tall for my age that I towered over most boys in my sixth-grade class; and I went around slouching like a pre-human out of the Jurassic not only because of my height, but also because I had begun to develop breasts, which were a primary source of my acute preadolescent embarrassment. (Particularly since my mother had apparently decided that every sentient being within a 200-mile radius needed to have my burgeoning mammaries pointed out to them. “Look, they’re so beeg!” she would cry out gleefully.)

So there was no way I was going to let anyone witness my surreptitious dancing, especially not with the troublesome boobs jiggling this way and that at the slightest provocation. (Who knew that I would one day smugly torment hapless males with this selfsame phenomenon?) I even chased our family shih tzu out of the room once or twice, when I suspiciously believed I had spotted judgment in poor Socks’s doggy brown eyes.

And then came Footloose.

Even in 1984, it was a really simple story: city boy moves to a small town from the big city, and comes into conflict with parochial small-town values. In this case, the antagonists were the town fathers and the local reverend (played by John Lithgow, pre-Third Rock), who had banned rock music and dancing within the town limits. The city boy (named Ren, and played by Kevin Bacon) observed that teenagers would dance--at a seedy roadhouse just outside town--and, more importantly, should dance, if they were so inclined. He therefore spoke up for his convictions (and got beaten up for it--well, mostly for cozying up to leading lady Lori Singer, actually) and eventually triumphed.

Oh, but it was just so much more extraordinary than that! It was the first movie I ever watched that had some sort of political underpinning (Eleven, remember?), and probably engendered my first conscious insight into human nature--that people need to find someone or something to blame; but that adversity can, on occasion, be overcome with courage, persistence, and passion.

Sounds like a lot to derive from a teenage flick about dancing, doesn’t it? Well, it was probably the music that did it--Footloose was the first album I bought for myself, with my own money, and I played that cassette tape only slightly more often than I watched the Betamax tape of the movie. (Betamax being a video format that has long gone the way of my pre-human slouch.) And I planned to marry Kevin Bacon when I was older... but it was Chris Penn, as Ren’s best friend Willard, who truly inspired me.

Willard could and did dance, although possibly he shouldn’t have. He was not the best dancer, and certainly not the best-looking guy in the film, but he wanted to dance and so he did, regardless of his gawky beanpole frame and flailing elbows and knees. It was never actually stated in the film, but it was somehow clear to me that--although nearly everyone else was a spectacular dancer--what mattered was not how well anybody danced, but that they did dance, for the sheer joy and fun and freedom of it.

And so I danced--if not exactly throwing open the doors of my then-teddy bear-filled room, then leaving them unlocked, at least. And so I still dance, in private or in public, head held high and chest thrust out, Footloose and embarrassment-free.
Also: Jac interviewed me a coupla weeks ago for her ongoing Pinays in Comics series. Check it out if you like here.
Nikki bit in at 2:42 PM :: ::
Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Things I Have Noticed...

since losing (now around 28 pounds of) weight:

Strangers bump into me—literally—a whole lot more than they used to. Seriously, it’s getting so that I can’t walk across a public place on my own without having to perform an entire yoga routine to avoid collision. I don’t know why this should be so--I mean, I’m reasonably sure I wasn’t that much bulkier before. Or was I? Did I, in fact, bestride the hallowed halls of Manila malls like a colossus? Was I so massive that people viewed me as an oncoming steamroller, whereas now they see me as an attractive steamrollee, and therefore deliberately swerve out of their paths just to get me? Or could it be just that...

Guys take a longer time to check me out now. This one I completely comprehend, because before, their eyes used to just linger on my chest, then blip up quickly to my face to see if the windshield, if you will, lives up to the promise of the headlights. These days, the eyes start out at my tits, ooze down the rest of my body to my toes, then slide all the way up again before they get to my actual face. Honestly, it’s enough to make a girl neurotic about her pedicure schedule, but I’m not exactly offended. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t acknowledge that I’m doing all this diet crap precisely to be easy on the eyes, right? I just wish they’d figure out how to do the once-over without us having to play bumper-cars eventually.

My husband is a tad more possessive than he used to be. I'm sure he hasn't realized this, but Dean has taken to steering me around public places with his hand in the small of my back. This is secretly hilarious to me because I know he knows he has nothing to worry about, yet here he is, acting like someone's gonna snatch me at the first opportunity. (He does not seem to feel the need to broadcast his "ownership" when we're with Sage, mind you--presumably my evident state of momminess renders me inviolate from potential woman-snatchers.) He also tends to lapse into goofily smiling blankness in mid-conversation; it's kind of fun to be able to render a celebrated speaker-cum-writer speechless with a tight t-shirt.

My back hurts almost all the time, although really it’s just a sort of low-grade ache. It’s not that I’ve been doing anything more strenuous than I used to, so my only working theory is that my fat actually used to help support my breasts, and now my poor spine is bitching at me for having to do all the work on its own. Okay, yes, I’m mostly kidding about this, but my back really does ache and my butt does too when I sit in one position for long. It’s the absence of previous padding, I tell you. Hmph, I thought I was supposed to feel healthier the closer I got to my ideal weight.

The tranny in the karaoke place we visit every weekend is still sexier than I am. Recently, Dean worriedly asked me if I was trying to become one of those anorexically-skinny model types; but no, my actual role model is the transvestite host at Music 21, who, despite having theoretically been born male, is now emphatically all woman, baby. It’s a sad state of affairs when the sexiest woman in the room is not only not you--it’s a chick who once had a dick.


Check out the rest of the posse!

Nikki bit in at 2:15 PM :: ::
Friday, August 26, 2005

Heritage (part 4 of a 4-part short story)

“Only your fiancé would send fruit instead of flowers,” Shelly pointed out at the office, a few days later. She was perched on Kit’s desk next to the basket of apples, oranges, grapes, and pears that a messenger had just delivered. “So what did Ramon do to piss you off this time?”

“The usual, only more of the same,” Kit replied. She was hunched over her keyboard working on the Magbalang story. “Go ahead and have some, why don’t you?”

“I just know I’m going to drip all over my shirt, but who cares?” said Shelly. “I’m feeling citrusy today.” She reached for an orange on the top of the pile, but somehow it slipped out of her fingers, bounced off the desk, and rolled across the floor under Shelly’s own table.

Kit stared, as Shelly got on her knees to go after the elusive fruit. “I know,” Shelly laughed, “I’m such a klutz.”

“’When you reach out for just anything’,” Kit remembered, unaware that she was speaking out loud, “’you may not like what you get.’”

“What?” Shelly asked, bumping her head on the underside of the table. “Ow!”

“You know what?” Kit said, saving her story and getting ready to shut her PC down and go. “I just realized I’m really not ready to bear fruit.”


“You’d better be ready to live with a slob,” Kit told Lola Basyang, as they carried the last of her suitcases into the master bedroom. “I know Papa was tidy, if not always organized--I’m the exact opposite.”

“You are your father’s daughter, and you are also exactly who you are,” the old woman said. “If Ramon could not understand that, then you made the right choice.”

“I know,” Kit sighed. She was becoming accustomed to the lady’s apparently off-topic, but really-actually-relevant segues. “But I’m not sure I want to spend the rest of my life with just you and your stories, no offense.”

“I would not expect you to,” Lola said, looking at Kit as if Kit were the strange one. “After all, you should have a successor to carry on the family tradition.”

“You would look at it that way,” Kit laughed, amused to find that she didn’t really mind. “You know what they say, though, Lola, a good man is hard to find.”

“When you are right with yourself, the right man will find you,” Lola informed her, beginning to unpack the nearest suitcase. “I know something about this...”

Kit smiled and sat on the bed, ready to fold clothes and listen.
Nikki bit in at 5:32 PM :: ::
Thursday, August 25, 2005

Heritage (part 3 of a 4-part short story)

“Are you a ghost?!” Kit demanded, later that week. “The carpenters say they haven’t seen hide or hair of you throughout this whole renovation. Do you have some secret way of getting in and out of this house, or am I the one who’s crazy?”

“Why would I leave the house when I have plants to tend?” asked Lola Basyang. She was on her knees, working a trowel through the soil in front of her as placidly as ever. “You need to loosen the soil, you know, so the plant can flourish.”

“Can you please, just once, answer the question that I’m actually asking you?” Kit was gritting her teeth, determined not to be sidetracked into storytelling or True Confessions this time. The renovations were all but done and the wedding was less than a month and a half away. The only obstacle remaining was this crazy lady and her annoyingly effective one-woman passive resistance movement.

“Yes,” said Lola, unperturbed. “Was that the question?”

“No, it was not!” Kit glared. “Don’t get smart with me. How are you getting in and out of this house? The carpenters and the guards have never seen you, but they’ve found adobo and kaldereta waiting for them in the kitchen. How do you get food, or--or seedlings to plant, for God’s sake? Who the hell are you!?”

“I am Lola Basyang,” the woman said calmly. “I do not leave the house I belong to. I lived with another family some time ago, but when there were no more storytellers among the Reyeses, I moved here. I have not left this home since, but I will if you wish me to.”

Kit plopped down on the ground, having technically received responses to her questions, but no answers that she could actually make sense of. She wiped one hand across her face. “Listen, it’s not that I’m throwing you out, but I just don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t mind if you stay, but Ramon wants it to be just the two of us. I’m grasping at straws for a solution here.”

“When you reach out for just anything, you may not like what you get,” Lola said pithily. “I know something about this.”

“Now, wait--” Kit tried, but the old woman overrode her once more, and she soon found herself drawn into the tale despite her best intentions.
“Once,” said Lola Basyang, “there was a young man whose parents were urging him to get married, as they were quite old and wished to see their grandchildren before they died. The young man loved his parents and wanted to do their bidding, but he had already sought out all the young women from all the villages upstream, and had not found one to his liking.”

“As he was lying under a tree pondering his problem one day, he noticed an orange hanging from one of the branches, perfectly round and pleasingly bright in hue. He plucked this perfect orange from the tree and took it with him to the nearby river. At the river bank, he held the orange to his lips and whispered to it, ‘Go downstream and find me a girl to love.’ Then he released the orange into the river, where the current quickly lifted it up and bore it away.”

“As the orange floated past many towns and villages, people drinking, washing, or bathing at the river caught sight of it and tried to take hold of it. But the sly fruit always eluded them, dipping and bobbing in the water, and slipping and sliding out of their grasp. Eventually, it came to a village named Maryukan, where there lived a girl so beautiful that her parents would never let her go anywhere without at least one of her cousins as chaperone.”

“It so happened that this girl and one of her female cousins were bathing in the river when the orange came by. Delighted with the little fruit’s perfection, the two girls made a game of trying to catch it, ducking and diving in the water for many long minutes without success. Finally, the lovelier girl, exasperated, said to the orange: ‘Please let me have you so that you may have me too.’ “After this, when the girl extended her hands, the orange floated into them willingly. Nevertheless, she remained wary of losing the fruit again, so when the two girls dressed and went home, she tucked it under her skirt, near her belly.”

“Months later, the girl discovered that she was pregnant. Her parents were very angry when they heard, but the girl told them her story and her cousins testified that she had never even been near any man. Realizing that the orange could only have come from upstream, the girl and her cousin decided to set off on a search for the tree that the wondrous fruit had come from. It was a very long journey, and the lovely girl was close to giving birth by the time they were able to find the only orange tree in the region, which grew in the young man’s backyard.”

“At first, the young man’s parents were doubtful when the girls approached them, but then the young man himself came home and told them of the plan he had set in motion so many months ago. His parents were still not completely convinced, but they saw that their son was very taken by the pregnant girl’s beauty, courage, and charm. So they held the wedding despite their misgivings--and a few weeks later, they were delighted to become the grandparents of a little boy who was the exact image of their beloved son.”

“As for the wonderful orange, it never withered or became spoiled, and the newlyweds kept it in a place of honor in their home, where it was later also cherished by their son and his wife, and their son, and their son’s son.”
“Okay, I give up,” said Kit, completely unmindful of the soil that was now ground into her designer jeans, “what would my father say the story is about?”

“Why look to your father for answers?” Lola smiled enigmatically. “You will find the answers you want when you understand what your question is.”
Nikki bit in at 1:01 PM :: ::
Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Heritage (part 2 of a 4-part short story)

The old house smelled of sampaloc when Kit went back a week later.

“I made your favorite,” Lola announced brightly, bustling about the kitchen. “Sinigang na hipon.” Kit trailed her around the room, surreptitiously peeking into cabinets and shelves as she passed. There was still hardly anything in there: some of the digestive crackers her father had favored, a half-eaten jar of Lily’s peanut butter, odds and ends. The gate guards reported that no one had entered or exited the house, much less the premises.

“Where did you get fresh shrimp?” Kit asked.

The old lady beamed as she set a place at the kitchen counter. “Don’t worry your pretty little head, anak. Just eat! You need more meat on your hips if you and Ramon are going to have children.”

“We’re not planning to have kids right away,” Kit said, and promptly bit her tongue. Somehow she kept chatting with the woman as if everything were perfectly normal, when she had really come to set things straight. “So... my father must have talked to you about me a lot, then?”

“Oh, yes, all the time,” Lola Basyang answered. “’Marikit is getting high marks in school’, ‘Marikit has a new young man’, ‘Marikit was promoted at work’. He was always very proud.”

“Really? I didn’t think he approved of me working in the magazine business,” Kit said, trying to subtly catch the woman in a misstep.

“Well, of course, he would have preferred you to continue the family tradition,” Lola Basyang agreed, inexplicably herding Kit to a seat at the kitchen counter.

“What family tradition? My grandparents ran a restaurant chain--you think this house was built with money from anthropology? It’s not exactly a money-making line of work.”

“And why do you think people flocked to their first restaurant?” the woman asked. “To hear your Lolo’s stories. He knew them from the old days, the old ways.” She had managed to maneuver Kit into one of the seats facing the counter, and was now scooping rice from a bowl onto Kit’s plate. “From me,” Lola continued, with an air of satisfaction.

“Wait, you’re trying to tell me you’ve been with the family since Lolo was young?” Kit asked, sure that she had stumbled onto a winning argument at last. “That’s impossible. I lived in this house for, what, twenty, twenty-one years? And I never laid eyes on you until last week.”

“That’s because you weren’t ready to see me then,” the old woman told her serenely. “It is often unpleasant for people to see things they are not meant to see. I know something about this.”

“What are you talking about?” Kit started to say, but the woman talked right over her.
“Once,” said Lola Basyang, “a man named Magbangal told his wife, ‘My wife, tomorrow I am going to clear our field. I do not want you to come with me--you must stay here at home.’ The next morning he took his ten axes, his bolos, his sharpening stone, and a bamboo tube full of water, and set off for the field alone.”

“When he reached their field, he cut some wood and made the wood into a bench. He sat down on the bench and told his bolos, ‘You bolos must be sharpened on the stone.’ At once the bolos rose up in the air and began to sharpen themselves on the sharpening stone that he had brought with him.”

“When the bolos were sharp enough to slice a whisper, Magbangal said to his axes, ‘You axes must also be sharpened.’ The ten axes rose up as well and began to sharpen themselves on the stone. When all the sharpening was complete, Magbangal told his implements, ‘Now you bolos must cut the grass, and you axes must cut the trees.’ The axes and bolos set to work swiftly and obediently.”

“At home, Magbangal’s wife was surprised to hear the sound of many trees falling at a very rapid pace. ‘My husband must have found many people to help him,’ she said to herself. ‘I will go and see.’ She had not forgotten what her husband had said to her, so she hid behind a tree near their field--and was surprised to see Magbangal fast asleep on a wooden bench! She was even more surprised to see all the bolos and axes working steadily away with no one to wield them.”

“Suddenly, one of the bolos swung away from the grass and chopped off her husband’s arm. Magbangal immediately jumped up and said, ‘I think someone must be looking at me, for my arm is cut off. If you are watching me, my wife, please show yourself now.’”

“Trembling, Magbangal’s wife stepped out from behind her tree, but she found that her husband was more sorrowful than angry. ‘Now I must go away,’ he told her. ‘It is better for me to return to the sky; and you, my wife, will have to go to the water and become a fish.’”

“So Magbangal’s poor wife was turned into a fish, while her husband went back to the sky and became the constellation known as the dipper, which the Bukidnon call Magbangal. His bolos became the constellation called Malala; his axes, the ten stars known as Ta-on; and his cut-off arm, the constellation Balokau. To this day, the farmers of Bukidnon plot their field work by the positions of these stars, so that they know when to plant, when to harvest, and when to clear the fields.”
“That’s a depressing story,” Kit commented, her spoon stilled halfway back to her plate. “in the European version--it’s called East of the Sun, West of the Moon--the girl goes after her man and wins him back. I think that’s much more positive.”

“This is this story, not that story. And stories are not meant to always be positive,” the old woman said, with a touch of asperity. “They are meant to be true.”

“And so this is, what,” Kit pressed on, “your way of lecturing me that I should be obedient to my husband?”

“If you take meaning from a tale, it is because that is the meaning that you choose to see,” Lola Basyang pointed out. “Your father believed it meant that truth can be unpleasant, but is best for all in the long run.”

Rolling her eyes, Kit lowered her spoon for another bite of sinigang, only to find that she had consumed the entire dish.


“You ate sinigang and listened to a story?!” Ramon asked unbelievingly, as they lay in bed that night. “Kitten, we agreed that you would go set her straight.”

“I know,” Kit said, trying to sound sorrier than she actually felt, “and I will, okay? It’s not like we’re moving into the house tomorrow.”

“But the carpenters will be starting work,” Ramon pointed out. “We’re getting married in less than seven weeks, Kitten. It’d be nice to have somewhere to live after the honeymoon.”

“Don’t call me Kitten, I’m not your pet,” Kit said absently. “I’ll work on it, okay? Once I’ve figured out how to get Myra to publish the story.”


“The Magbalang story, of course.”

“Kitten,” Ramon said, in that patronizing tone of his. He’s just concerned about me, Kit reminded herself. “You are aware that you work at a women’s lifestyle magazine, right?”

“So?” Kit retorted. “We publish fiction. Why shouldn’t a Filipino lifestyle magazine feature Filipino stories? I just have to make it accessible for our readers, that’s all.”

“Well, you need to fool your editor,” Ramon pronounced. “I do it all the time at work--you have to convince people that what you want is what they wanted in the first place.”

“I don’t want her to do it because I’ve fooled her,” Kit said, annoyed. “I want her to do it because it’s something that should be done.”

“Whatever,” said Ramon, and went back to reading his Asiaweek.

Kit stared at him. He was just trying to be helpful, she told herself. If she stared long enough, she thought, she might be able to see a ghost of the man she had once fallen in love with.
Nikki bit in at 1:14 PM :: ::
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Heritage (part 1 of a 4-part short story)

This is one of the two stories I ended up not submitting for Dean's antho. I don't particularly like it anymore--less than a month after I wrote it!--but there are some interesting bits here and there.
Kit found Lola Basyang on the back porch of the old family home, stitching contentedly as she sat in Kit’s father’s old-fashioned wood-and-wicker lounging chair. She looked exactly as anyone would expect her to, wearing a shabby but well-mended flowered dress, a knitted shawl close around her shoulders despite the stifling afternoon heat. Her skin was milk-coffee-colored, smooth and saggy at once the way older Filipinas sometimes get. She had once-black hair, mostly gray now; and she did not look up when Kit stepped through the French doors that opened out from the formal dining room.

“Excuse me,” Kit said, a bit more sharply than she meant to because she was surprised. “Who are you? No one’s supposed to be here!”

“You must be Marikit,” the old woman said placidly, still not looking up from her needlework. “I am sorry for the loss of your papa, anak.”

Kit stared. No one had called her “Marikit” in years, not even her father, on pain of Kit hanging up the phone. “I asked you a question,” Kit pointed out. “Who are you, what are you doing in my house, and why do you know my name?”

“I am Lola Basyang,” the strange woman pronounced, looking up at Kit for the first time. Kit noted that she did not wear glasses, despite her obviously advanced age. Her eyes were bright and sharp, like a bird’s, though her gaze was level and unwavering.

“How do you know my father died?” Kit asked, regretting the question as soon as it came out. The crazy old lady was obviously not disposed to answering any question that wasn’t repeated at least once; and really, her answers were hardly relevant to the situation at hand. “Never mind, just listen. My father left this house to me; and whoever you are--or whoever you think you are--you need to leave before I call the police.”

“But I belong here,” the woman said, as calmly as ever. “I have been living in your house for some time now.”

Kit backed up against the French doors, digging in her slouch bag for her cell phone. She knew she really ought to call the police, but somehow--although she was now keeping a wary eye out for any accomplices that might be hiding somewhere--the old lady seemed harmless, if possibly insane. And it wasn’t as if Kit actually knew what number to dial for the police, anyway.

She decided to call Ramon instead. “Hey, it’s me,” she said into the phone, fighting the ridiculous urge to turn away so that the old woman wouldn’t hear her.

“So how’s our little love nest looking?” Ramon wanted to know.

“You won’t believe what’s happened,” Kit told him. “I found an old lady sewing on the back porch. She says she’s Lola Basyang.”

“What!?” Kit wondered why she didn’t feel as astonished as Ramon sounded.

“She’s Lola Basyang, she says. And she says that she lives here.”

Ramon, terse: “Kit, you have to get out of there. Lock yourself in the car and call the police.”

“Don’t freak out, okay?” Kit said, trying to soothe him. “She’s just a little old lady; there’s no one else here. It’s not like she’s tearing down the walls or anything.”

“She’s a squatter, Kit,” Ramon sounded exasperated now. “You have to be careful. People like that will fight to the death for what they think is theirs.”

“She’s a little old lady,” Kit repeated. “What’s she going to do, stab me with her sewing needle? ‘Fight to the death’... you should hear yourself.”

“Will you please just call the police?” He was getting that tone in his voice that she had learned to recognize as acute irritation. “I inputted the number in your cell phone. Just call and wait for them at the gate.”

“In the first place,” Kit said, as patiently as possible, “they’re Manila police. I could call and stand by the gate all day and they might never show up. In the second place, this woman knows way too much about me to be some random squatter. Maybe she was Papa’s maid or something; I can’t just throw her out into the streets.”

“Why in God’s name would your father have a maid who thinks she’s Lola Basyang?”

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Kit said dryly. “Listen, Mon, don’t worry about it, okay? I can handle this. I’ll call you when I get home.”

“If you can handle everything so well,” Ramon rasped sarcastically, “then why did you bother calling me?”

He hung up. Kit methodically put her cell phone away, counting to ten, then twenty.

“Your fiancé is a very hot-tempered man,” said the erstwhile Lola Basyang.

“He’s just concerned about me,” Kit said absently, a split second before realizing that the old woman had revealed yet another instance of overly-familiar knowledge. “How do you--Did you work for my father? Are you the helper here?”

“I worked with your father, let us say,” the old woman said, seemingly amused. “I helped him a great deal with his work, yes, that’s true.”

Kit clicked her tongue against her teeth. Her father had been a cultural anthropologist--a profession no one really understood, so Kit generally explained it as, “He goes around talking to people, then writes down the stories they tell him and publishes them.” It had probably tickled his peculiar sense of humor to have a crazy old coot of a maid with delusions of being the grande dame of Filipino storytelling.

“Listen, you can stay here until I’ve figured out what to do with the house, okay?” she told the woman. “How are you eating? Is there food? Do you need money?”

“Ramon won’t like that,” Lola Basyang said, drawing her embroidery thread taut, “especially if you give me money.”

Kit had turned on her heel and gone to check the kitchen, in which there was virtually no food stocked--typical of her father. She had offered the old woman a generous amount of cash, only to find herself gently but adamantly rebuffed.


“I don’t get it,” she said to Shelly, a day later at work. “I mean, okay, I guess she needs a place to stay, but why would she turn down the money? She’d better not have anyone coming into the house to feed her.”

“Well, you said Ramon hired some security guards, right?” Shelly reasoned. “So no one’s going in or out without you finding out about it.”

“No one’s going in, period,” Kit grumbled. “Mon gave instructions that the minute Lola goes out, they’re to lock the gates behind her.”

“Harsh,” Shelly commented.

“He calls it a compromise,” Kit said. “We’re not throwing her out, but if she leaves, she’s not coming back. I told him ‘when she leaves’ is more like it; I mean, she has to eat sometime.”

“Too bad,” Shelly mused. “It’d be kinda cool, don’t you think, to be able to say you live with Lola Basyang? You’ll be married in a couple of months anyway, so Ramon will be able to look after you.”

“Shel, in the first place, when are you going to get that I don’t need ‘looking after’?” Kit asked, smiling. “In the second place, anyone with half an education knows that Lola Basyang was really a man, Severino Reyes. You’d think a cultural anthropologist would have kept that in mind.”

“Says the comp lit major,” Shelly quipped. “The sampaloc doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

to be continued tomorrow!

Check out the rest of the posse!

Tobie Abad
Gabby Lee
Andre Mischa Cleofe
Cathy delos Santos
Nikki bit in at 1:33 PM :: ::
Monday, August 22, 2005

At Once Smug and Frazzled

Smug because I actually accomplished quite a bit last week, yet the projects are lining up, which means I will have some nice challenges and even nicer paychecks in the foreseeable near future. Frazzled because although I actually accomplished quite a bit last week, the projects are lining up, which means I will have some nice challenges--albeit even nicer paychecks--in the foreseeable near future. Honestly, you know, it never rains but it pours.

I'd like to thank everyone who has extended congratulations to Dean and me over the Palancas and everything. (Particularly Pauline, who sent me that lovely digital flower on the right.) Really, you guys have been so kind and supportive that it almost means more to me than the award itself. (It literally would mean more, except, y'know, I can't hang y'all on my living room wall.)

My other reason for smugness is that I went to a dress fitting last Saturday for Kate and Alex's wedding (at which Dean and I will be secondary sponsors), and woohoo! The dressmaker had to take in over two inches on each side; that's how much weight I've lost. Someday I may actually be nearly as sexy as El's drawing over there (Look up and to your right) makes me out to be. Assuming, you know, that's actually humanly possible.

But speaking of Kate (who is one of my favoritest people, by the by), I decided to do this interesting thingie from her blog:
Five Things You May Not Know About Me:

1. My bizarre smorgasbord heritage is Spanish / Filipino / Chinese / Portuguese / Indian / Irish. I am directly descended, through different branches of the family tree, from the Catholic saint Theresa of Avila and a Spanish priest. Which just goes to show that godliness is not an inheritable character trait.

2. I believe that I have a crooked nose and a crooked front tooth, but these may be hallucinatory since, in 32 years of existence thus far, I appear to be the only one who has noticed.

3. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, the Palanca award I won this year was my first. I have a couple of Anvil awards for my copywriting and a (completely undeserved, I tell you) National Book Award for editing Vin's anthology, Isaw Atbp., but that's about it. Oh, and okay, I once represented the country as the national champion for Magic: the Gathering, and I won the National Spelling Bee and a Seventeen magazine writing contest in my pre-teens. Other than that, I never even win raffles.

4. I am freakishly strong for my size, gender, and general lack of physical fitness--I can lift most men of my acquaintance off the ground. I have absolutely no fear of pain, cockroaches, dark alleys, bats, heights, or the supernatural, but I am unreasonably terrified of frogs. I once killed a snake armed only with a slipper.

5. I have slept with two men at once; and, on a separate occasion, with a man and a woman at once. Thus I can tell you with absolute certainty that my preference is for dicks over chicks, thank you very much. And please note that there is no open casting call for menage a trois partners currently ongoing.
There! That ought to give you some food for thought in your daily reading.
Nikki bit in at 1:29 PM :: ::
Thursday, August 18, 2005

S & M & Me

At last I'm free!

For a second, or even two.

I don't know exactly how it works for other writer-type people; but me, when I'm enmeshed in the writing process--whether for creative or corporate purposes--I tend to obsess about it.

It gets ugly. I wind up thinking about the work roughly 70% of the time--whether I'm playing with my daughter, wrestling with my habitual plaguing insomnia (which, peculiarly, comes in handy whenever I'm visiting my mother in Florida, since I end up in approximately the right time zone for once), and generally at any random moment when I'm not thankfully engrossed in some adequately-absorbing television or reading material.

Otherwise, I worry covertly at the words I've already crafted--whether written down or presently extant only in my mind--like a recalcitrant cold sore in the lining of my mouth, which my tongue cannot resist jolting into electric agony every time the pain consents to subside to nearly manageable levels. My cursedly efficient memory allows me the leisure-cum-torture of mentally placing a comma, just so, in between phrases of my mentally-viewed text; then removing said comma; then inserting it once more, or replacing it with an inexplicably more appropriate semi-colon. I stutter over the same virtual ground over and over again, retracing phrases, sentences, paragraphs. Sometimes I even dream about it, which just goes to demonstrate the depths of my literate lunacy.

Dean finally informed me that he's accepting the story I wrote for his spec fic anthology. (I wrote one and ended up hating it; wrote another and liked it passably well; hammered out a third on the knife-edge of deadline and finally submitted that one.) Which means I can finally stop thinking about those three troublesome paper-offspring and start obsessing about the other things I'm currently working or waiting on.

Oh, but this writing taskmistress is a bitch. And I love her despite and for it.
Nikki bit in at 1:29 PM :: ::
Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Five-Book Meme

Because Sassy tagged me, and it’s never wise to ignore a lawyer...

Total Number of Books I Own
You must be joking. I’m pretty sure I own more books than any other single class of things. I have more books than clothes, for example. More books than, say, forks. Certainly more books than money; and all too often, more books than good sense. Definitely more books than I am willing to count, and that doesn’t even include the multitude of books I have lost, tossed, or given away. I’ve probably owned at least four complete sets of The Lord of the Rings alone (because the damned Two Towers has this habit of disappearing).

Last Book I Bought
Touching Earth by Rani Manicka. I like my reading material to have more than a touch of eccentricity--you will rarely find me picking up anything touted as “a sweeping generational saga of immigrants”, for example, unless at least one of said immigrants happens to be a voudon priest or some such. So this novel--which features dancing Balinese twins, a courtesan with “a switch that allows her to feel no pain”, and a sinister Sicilian who makes a deal with a blood goddess--ought to be right up my alley. (And I found this in the general fiction shelves, which probably goes to show that slipstream is happily slipping into the mainstream.)

Last Book I Read
Skeleton Crew by Stephen King. A reread--because I devour books the way other people eat rice, so I need to retrace my steps whenever I run out of fresh material. Fortunately, ol’ Steve is always good for a revisit. The last new book I read was Singer of All Songs by Kate Constable. (See my sideblog, over there to the right.) It continues to amaze me that the selection of fantasy titles in the children’s section is infinitely superior to that in the actual sci-fi/fantasy shelves. Note to the buyer of Powerbooks: there is actually more speculative fiction out there than Star Trek, Star Wars, and All Things Robert Jordan. And really, just how many versions of Tolkien do you think the buying public requires? Even if we keep losing The Two Towers.

Five Types of Books I Read
(1) excellent, (2) good, (3) passable, (4) mediocre, (5) shit on a shingle. Okay, no, I know that’s not what the question meant. Let’s see:

1. fantasy and fantasy-leaning slipstream. I also read sci-fi a lot when I was younger, but my husband has infected me with his prejudices, and I have come to share his viewpoint that the vast majority of science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Which, yay, cool concepts and all, but in my never-very-humble opinion, stories should be about people, not ideas. I know this is very revolutionary of me, but what can I say, I’m a maverick that way.

2. alternative history. Basically, this sub-sub-genre (There are probably even more “subs” than that) covers books set in a historical time period, exploring the real or imagined events in the lives of real or imagined historical personages. Much of it is fantasy, but a good deal isn’t. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose springs to mind, for instance.

3. whatever nonfiction happens to strike my fancy. I’ll occasionally spot a nice, breezy dissertation on science or history (and convince Dean to buy it--not hard, as he loves the stuff thrice as much as I do!), or I’ll specifically set out to get something I want to learn about. I’ve also been eyeing The Lonely Planet Travel Book and one of Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks for some time, but they’re astronomically priced. Considering that (a) I dislike hardbounds; (b) I am the world’s laziest cook; and (c) I hardly leave my hotel room except to go to the bookstore anyway when I do travel, it’s a little too exorbitant an expense even for my recklessly-obliging wallet.

4. folklore, fairy tales, and mythology. There’s actually quite a bit of this floating around, but sadly, much of it is prettily designed yet poorly written. The fact that a folklorist has the capacity to collect traditional stories does not automatically indicate that he/she should actually be allowed to write them down.

5. see-ree-yous litch’r’chur, although most of my choices of this nowadays pretty much fit into one of the above categories. I’m going to have to wait for Isabel Allende’s Zorro to come out in paperback. (One of the advantages of see-ree-yous litch’r’chur is that it is almost guaranteed to come out in paperback.)

6. shitlit. This includes science thrillers a la Michael Crichton, occult-ish thrillers like Katherine Neville’s The Eight (but not Dan Brown’s execrable Da Vinci Code, thank you very much), and sexy horror thingies by the likes of Laurell K. Hamilton. The derogatory classification doesn’t mean these books are bad, necessarily, just that they’re not likely (or expected) to contribute much to my intellectual edification. Books I read when I don’t feel like activating my brain, yet which will not make me reel in vomitous disgust.

Five Books that Meant a Lot to Me
1. Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.
This was lying around the house when I was a kid because my brother was studying it in school. I picked it up because it looked like a fairy tale book, and was instantly engrossed, then and apparently forever. Though I couldn’t get why it was such a big deal that Artemis put the shepherd Endymion to sleep every night, and would then “visit” him while he was sleeping. So the lady wants to visit, thought I. Let her!

2. Salman Rushdie’s East, West. Rushdie is my favorite writer, but this is actually not my favorite of his books. It is, however, the one that solidified for me the notion that you can be a writer of a certain nationality, yet still write in English about whatever the hell you want and set it wherever you damn well please. He is no less Indian for his choice of language, and I love him for it.

3. Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne. My first concrete proof that fantasy can be written with intelligence and integrity. Also: the onset of my love affair with beautiful sorrow. Whenever I’m reading the latest Kay book, Dean will ask me, “So how’s it going?” “It will all end in tears,” I reply, already misty-eyed several chapters from the finale, “but I love it.”

4. Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment. Hugely influential not just in terms of critical analysis of children’s literature, but even in the way I’m rearing my child. Bettelheim’s contention was that fairy tales, in all their dark, scary glory, are intended not merely to entertain but to educate; and moreover, to prepare children to face the world rather than protect them from it. Of course, the man killed himself in the end, but I still think he made a good point.

5. Ellen Datlow, Gavin Grant, and Kelly Link's The 17th Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Dude, it was my husband’s first international print publication! And as one of the best spec fic short stories in the world, at that. The ridiculous thing is that I have never read any of the other stories in this collection. Because every time I pick the thing up, I end up reading Dean’s story again, putting the book down, and sighing in proud satisfaction. Someday I hope to get over it, so maybe I will actually have read the whole thing by the time I’m, say, sixty.

And yeah, I know I was only supposed to list five types of books that I read, but believe me, keeping it down to six took all my restraint. As for who I’m tagging, as usual, if y’all wanna do it, then do it. Whatever floats your boat, y’know?
Nikki bit in at 3:41 PM :: ::
Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy Explained

Dean says it’s okay for me to talk about this, so I will try to recount the events that occurred in a sober, adult fashion.

Holy fucking shit, I fucking won a fucking Palanca award!

Ahem. Okay. Now on with our tale...

So I was on the phone with Marc, who is my number one copywriting client (in terms of both quantity and quality--if you ever have the chance to work with/for Marc, do). The doorbell rang and I went to get it. It was an LBC guy (like a UPS guy--only, y'know, not cute) and, since I was still on the phone, I just thanked him and signed for the pair of envelopes without really looking at them.

I was actually in the process of opening the envelope addressed to me before I noticed the Palanca Foundation seal in the upper left corner. I experienced a moment of ludicrous paranoia: They wouldn’t write me just to say, “As if, loser!”, would they?

Thankfully, they did not. Instead, the letter told me that my story Menggay’s Magical Chicken (previously published in this blog) had won in the Short Story for Children category.

I then proceeded to scream in my poor client’s ear. Incoherently, I’m sure; nevertheless, Marc got the gist of it and laughingly congratulated me, opting to discuss business at a later time (no doubt with the prescient realization that my thought processes had been reduced to: “Letter good! Judges nice! Nikki happy!”).

So I hung up, opened the envelope addressed to Dean (I will let him have the pleasure of telling you about it, so hop over to his blog if you want to know... but you more or less know, right?), and commenced jumping up and down. (And yes, those of you reading this who happen to be male and prurient may now take a moment to reflect on the image of a woman with 40D breasts attempting to defy the law of gravity.) Sage jumped jubilantly along with me for some time before asking, “Mommy, why are we jumping?”

I tried to call Dean and bliss out in concert with him, but he was in the middle of a business presentation and had to curb his enthusiasm to the best of his capacity. Thus I went on to emote over the phone at Vin, Jen, and Kate--who fortunately informed me that she was negotiating a flight of stairs, so I was able to warn her before I screamed in her ear and sent her to a premature-but-nonetheless-congratulatory doom.

By the time Dean finally came home, I was marginally calmer. We ran into each other's arms as, with pride, he said to me, “Wow, look, I’m married to a Palanca award winner!”

“Enhhh,” I responded, blasé. “I been married to one ten years. It’s not so big.”

Check out the rest of the posse!

Tobie Abad
Gabby Lee
Andre Mischa Cleofe
Cathy delos Santos
Nikki bit in at 12:04 AM :: ::
Monday, August 08, 2005

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

I am sooo happy at the moment, but I don't think I can tell you why. (I mean, aside from the fact that I find my blog sooo pretty and other people seem to think so too.) It all has to do with the LBC guy who arrived at my doorstep this afternoon. If you know what I mean, then you know what I mean. Otherwise, fear not, Constant Reader, all will be revealed in time.
Nikki bit in at 5:58 PM :: ::

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Welcome to the redesigned Contradiction in Terms!

Yup, it’s officially been two years since I was dragged (kicking and screaming, note) into the blogosphere, which is why I had to take a break to make a new look for Blog (who doesn’t have a very creative name, but at least he’s pretty) on his birthday.

There are just a couple of new features y'all might want to check out: my virtual pet (in homage to my beloved’s secondary business, a pet store) which you can feed, ignore, or tease mercilessly by making her follow your mouse around the aquarium; and my nifty new sideblog, in which I will be featuring my latest and most egregious expenditures on reading material, cosmetics, and, well, anything else that pretty much goes on my shelves (hence the name). The sideblog also serves the function of significantly lessening my intense Gigi-envy. (Ha, now I have one! ...But she has two. Grf.) Oh, and there are drop-down menus on the top bar--I’m particularly proud of having figured out how to do that. (And now my hair is coming out in patches, and you’ll probably never click ‘em anyway... But such is life.)

As for the rest, it’s all about simplicity, and trying to get as much white space as possible in here while still accommodating my heinous tendency to rave on (as I am doing right now). The cute Nikki cartoon is by El, who gave it to me as a birthday present this year; and if you don’t get how the tomato theme relates to the blog, then you are obviously not as smart as I thought you were.

Things I have Learned in the Course of Revamping:
1. TagBoard is still, hands-down, the best thingy-thing of its kind. That is, if you have smart readers who actually have more to say than “hi” or (ugh) “jz drpn by”. Luckily for me, I do (You did get the tomato thing, right?), so there you go.

2. I had money-earning ads on this blog for about half a year and made exactly thirty cents. Which means that y’all are not very curious people, and for me, at least, the idea just wasn’t working.

3. My technical aptitude has limits. (See my message to Rickey, below.)

4. Blogger still has the cleanest free interface that is user-friendly, yet allows customization.

5. There are many very nice people on the worldwide web who make scripts and graphics available for free for no apparent reason. Well, okay, maybe for self-glorification, but I don’t mind at all and hereby thank them profusely…

... And you, too, for waiting around just to read my usual senseless blather. Which is still senseless, but at least now it’s framed nicely.
Dear Rickey,
It actually only took me a day or two to do the actual redesign; the rest of the time was spent wrestling fruitlessly with WordPress and Cute FTP to try and make all this work on your graciously-provided Alas, I have discovered that my technical aptitude has its limits. Grace me with some kind of step-by-step instruction, Oh Knowledgeable One!
(By the way, if anyone wants to use the old layout on their blog, let me know before I consign it to eternity. It’s a little shopworn, but it’s free and has proven reader appeal!)
Nikki bit in at 2:02 AM :: ::
Friday, August 05, 2005

update, FYI

Just so's y'all know, I'm all but done with the redesign. Expect me to start posting Actually Interesting Stuff again by this coming Tuesday at the latest.
Nikki bit in at 1:36 PM :: ::
Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Sorry! We are expecting technical difficulties.

In other words, it is now August, which is the blog's birthday month, which means I'll be busy for the next week or so redesigning. So look out for the new Contradiction in Terms by Friday! (Or, y'know, thereabouts...)
Nikki bit in at 5:32 PM :: ::
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Nikki Alfar is really not as sexy as El's illustration would have you believe... but she doesn't mind if you think of her that way.
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Location: Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines

class act/guttersnipe. tomboy/girly-girl. serious writer/comics hack. wife & mom/tart & tease. obssessive-compulsive/laid-back. sweetheart/bitch. all that.

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