A glimpse of my short story reading experience and my personal Deal Me In challenge

#DMI2020 deal me in challenge short stories Philippine literature Japanese short stories
I remember someone who asked me what short stories I would recommend for her to read given that, in her words, the short story is not as popular as the other genres. I was at the time ready to steel myself up to defend the literary form I love and enjoy so much. Of course, my argument would have been out of context. Perhaps she was talking from experience or from something she had read or from a global perspective. Instead of sparking a debate, I gave the names of writers whose works I found very memorable, like Filipino writer Estrella Alfon who was an embodiment of a talent that was too advanced for the period she lived in and like 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature winner and Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, because I thought, everyone loves Munro’s works, right? (I know I do.)

I cannot remember when I started reading short stories. It just happened. I probably picked up a book and read a short story, perhaps a work by American short story writer O. Henry. Without profound self-awareness, I then turned to other books that have short stories in them and have been reading this literary form since. What I can recall clearly is the birth and growth of my excitement over Philippine literature maybe around six years ago. When I was still enrolled in a couple of courses in a postgraduate degree I did not finish, I scoured the main library during a sleepy lunch break and discovered masterpieces by Alejandro Roces, Francisco Arellana, Paz Latorena, Aida Rivera-Ford, Paz Marquez Benitez, Alfon, and more in the Filipiniana section. I returned to this section almost every Saturday for the remainder of the semester.

I continue to read Philippine literature, especially short stories in English, to this day. Along the way, I discovered the works of Gilda Cordero-Fernando and Gregorio Brillantes, among others. All their stories are reflective of the Filipino life and indicative of the common Filipino traits: optimistic and resilient in the face of adversity, family-oriented, religious, independent, and hospitable. When I read their works, I am always awestruck by the writers’ fluid mastery in English writing. Literary critic Gémino Abad described this as Filipinos’ colonization of the English language to which we were exposed during the brief British invasion of the Philippines and which has become an integral part of the education system enforced under the American rule.

Joining the Japanese Literature Challenge for the first time

japanese literature 13 dolce bellezza #JapaneseLitChallenge13 Yukio Mishima Donald Keene Ryūnosuke Akutagawa Jay Rubin
You may have heard of people who say they had trudged into certain paths because of certain life-changing events, like how a moving speech of a leader can prompt one to take the route of a public servant. Sometimes, it only takes one moment to change a pathway in one’s history. I had a similar experience with Japanese literature. I only heard that Japanese writers have had very good literary yields and yet my interest was tepid at best. Many years ago, I started reading Tokyo: A Biography by Stephen Mansfield, but, despite my profound appreciation for the richness of Japan’s culture and heritage, I remained inattentive to its literature and focused my immersion elsewhere, such as in the works by Agatha Christie and Filipino writers Estrella Alfon and Gilda Cordero-Fernando.

japanese literature 13 dolce bellezza the hunting gun yasushi inoue #JapaneseLitChallenge13
This changed. And it’s because of one book: The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue. I bought my copy from a local online seller for two reasons. While other buyers were scrambling to beat each other for books on philosophy, poetry and feminism, this little beautiful green book published by Pushkin Press went with almost little attention. Then I thought about starting small in my repassage into Japanese literature. I bought it, read it and unexpectedly broke my heart over it. I talked with my patient husband about The Hunting Gun for hours and used it as reference as I plowed to understand men’s libertine affairs apart from and beyond those with their wives.

2019 literary fortunes, 2020 reading thoughts, and book wishes in between

When I will look back on this year, I know I will remember it with content. At this point, I can already describe 2019 as my period of serious self-care, which I hope to continue in 2020: I was able to eat properly, sleep well and longer under the pressure of deadlines, exercise several days a week, take walks around the neighborhood, attend events I want to go, read books I want to read, nurture a potted garden of ferns, write about the things that are special to me, and connect more with people I choose to be with. I’m in my thirties now and, at my age, I am fortunate to be living with heartwarming consciousness what I perceive to be a simple life, one that is a preferred contrast to my rushed existence during my teens and twenties.

One of my fortunes in 2019 was becoming a member of the Women in Literary Arts (WILA)-Cebu. I attended my first monthly meeting of the group in November during which exciting plans were put forward for 2020, whetting my interests in creative nonfiction and short story writing. Another good thing that happened to me this year is the reading of books I wanted to read either by design or by impulse. These books are:

Becoming a WILA member

Women in Disaster Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop Women in Literary Arts WILA Cebu
Participants and panelists of the "Women in Disaster" 
Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop in 2015 
(Photo by Dr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu)
Four years ago, I sat by the edge of the horseshoe seating arrangement in a workshop that would propel my membership application to the Women in Literary Arts-Cebu. To my right was poet Mrs. Ma. Milagros “Gingging” T. Dumdum. In 2018, she successfully launched a book of poems titled Falling on Quiet Water (Haiku Sequence). She is also a former president of WILA. To my left was Prof. Lilia T. Tio, associate professor of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu College of Communication, Art and Design. She received the Gawad Paz Marquez Benitez 2019 from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas or Umpil.

Before me was a panel of first-rate experts and award-winning writers: Dr. Marjorie Evasco, Prof. Susan Lara, Prof. Victor Peñaranda, and retired Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. The room we occupied at St. Mark Hotel for the Women in Disaster creative nonfiction writing seminar-workshop was filled with people I admire. There was the late Ms. Erma Cuizon, co-founder of WILA, whose Sunday column in SunStar Cebu I had enjoyed reading. There was Prof. Erlinda Kintanar-Alburo, a literary scholar and my teacher when I took up some units in literature at the University of San Carlos (USC). There was Dr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu, director of the USC Cebuano Studies Center. And there was my former supervisor at work, Ms. Haidee Palapar, former president of WILA and whose strength and leadership I respect.

I felt both misplaced and humbled to be in the same room with all of them. It was not the first literary workshop I attended. Many years ago, when I was a dense and ignorant college student, I was miraculously accepted as a fellow to a workshop where Prof. Alburo and esteemed poet Prof. Merlie Alunan sat as panelists. I submitted silly short stories about death and sex, and how I got accepted still boggles my mind to this day.

13 short stories of hunger, desperation, arrogance

The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker by Gilda Cordero-Fernando
You can attribute my past lack of knowledge on Filipino artists to the degree I completed in college where I was so focused on media and its relationships with the world. Even as a child, I was already reading books by foreign writers. When I took some units in literature during my erratic journey to some sort of a postgraduate degree, I missed the opportunity to sharpen my knowledge on Philippine literature. This changed a little when I hoarded as many as I can Filipiniana books I stumbled upon at Booksale a few years ago. And I started reading more.

One of these hoarded books is The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker, a collection of 13 short stories by Gilda Cordero-Fernando. I first read A Love Story from the same collection as my participation in the #DealMeIn2019 challenge. In the past week, I finished reading the rest, often taking pauses in between short stories and engaging in a bewildering reflection that the previous short story read demands.

The noirish faces of Manila


Manila Noir Jessica Hagedorn Manila Philippines short stories Philippine literature
The recent book I finished reading was Manila Noir, a collection of 14 noirish short stories that paint various black realities that happened (and likely still happening) in the City of Manila, the capital of my country, the Philippines. Edited by Filipino novelist Jessica Hagedorn, the collection displays a throbbing vein of bleak existence that densely populated cities like Manila cannot seem to shake off. 

Like in most cities, the rapid economic growth in Manila comes with a price; it leaves behind many poor people who believed in the city as a greener pasture. Yet they struggle to live, to survive, to catch up. Others turn to drugs, sex, and bribes to live through one more day. The 14 writers in Manila Noir succeed in portraying them as cynical characters who dream and scheme their way to greatness...or degradation. Mostly degradation.

This led me to the question: What is noir? The word only brought to my mind the American crime film Sin City. Noir, I’ve checked Merriam-Webster dictionary, refers to crime fiction that features “hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings.” Once I understood that, I appreciated Manila Noir with a different perspective, my memories of the days from when I was a news reporter resurfaced. 

Desalination may be able to help solve Cebu’s long-standing water scarcity, but...


Photo by Baudolino on Pixabay
Water, to me, is very important. I don’t drink soda or tea or coffee or sweetened drinks, only water. There’s an occasional sikwate or fruit shake, but water, I drink liters of it each day. Somehow, there has always been a steady supply of it for me, which makes me happy. 

Then I learned a new fear. A couple of weeks ago, where I live with my husband, there was no supply of water for several days. It was fortunate that we were able to store drinking water good for a week. 

We do not buy from water refilling stations. We have our own filters to make the chlorine-smelling and slimy water we get from the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) a bit cleaner and safer for drinking. And we have rainwater for toilet use. 

It was a scary time. Around the neighborhood, when I went out for walks, I heard neighbors asking each other about their supply of water. Others were busy calling up water delivery services as far as Lapu-Lapu City. 

MCWD, which was placed in the hot seat and doubly pressured by the provincial government, did not initiate an intensive information campaign about the issue, much to our distress and anxiety. 

Another side of Agatha Christie


agatha christie harlequin tea set short stories short story collections
A long time ago, while scouring for new old books at a thrift shop, my eyes caught sight of a spine with the name Agatha Christie on it, in big gold capital letters. It is not a Hercule Poirot mystery, to my slight disappointment. It was a collection of her short stories, a matter I have never heard of before. 

But I thought, the book is written by English writer Agatha Christie whose literary works I admire for their clear writing and stupendous weave of events. The book is not about Poirot but nevertheless I bought it. Years later, this collection of short stories titled The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories (published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of the Penguin Group), gathered dust on my shelf, beckoning me to read it. I finally did, recently. 

And I was surprised and regretful after I finished--surprised to find a unique set of short stories that gave me a warped sense of incredulity, and regretful for not reading it sooner. The book consists of nine short stories, almost each of different varieties but shares a similar and all-too-familiar theme we know Christie is a master of: mystery. 

Green love: How I started a garden


gardening ideas gardening for beginners
desert rose
First of all, I don’t have a garden. Technically, that is. Not the kind you see in the Smithsonian Gardens or in the backyards of suburban homes. If you can call a congregation of 30 pots or so a garden, then I have one. More than half of these pots are not even mine. They belong to my mama and my mama-in-law. 

Gardening did not interest me until three years ago when I was feeling very sad after a miscarriage. At the time, I did not want to work. I had wanted only to stay cooped up in bed, eat, and watch Korean variety show Superman Returns videos on Youtube until I was strong again. So I directed my energies to the things I have always enjoyed doing: drawing, doing embroidery, crocheting, reading, and arranging my books. I did not write for seven months. 

One day within that bleak period, my mother challenged me to nurture one of my maternal grandmother’s pots of asparagus fern. A couple of pots were already in a pitiful state. I thought of Lola Vicenta whose slim back I had often seen as a rambunctious child when she bent down to tend her orchids, malunggay, and purple queen. Motivated not to lose (not again, I thought at the time), I agreed to my mother’s challenge and brought one pot home.

The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue

(Please do not read this review if you do not wish for spoilers.) 

My rating: 5/5 stars

As a daughter, what will you do when you find out that your mother is having an affair with your uncle two days before her death? As a wife, what will you do when you find out that your husband is having an affair with your best friend? As a mistress, what will you do when you find out that your daughter and best friend have long discovered your...sin, sin, sin? 

In his fictional novel, The Hunting Gun, Japanese writer Yasushi Inoue strives to answer these questions and presents an illicit love affair’s psychological impact on women. It happened at a time immediately after WWII in a place that boasts of exclusivity and popularity among monied families who can afford to study abroad and maintain a couple of houses. 

The story is told from the viewpoints of three different women, who have connections to each other, through their letters addressed to the same man, the one who chooses to be “wicked” and, in the process, leaves a deplorable effect on the lives of these women.