WILA celebrates 29 years of sisterhood and literary arts in Cebu

women in literary arts cebu literary groups 2020
It is no secret that I was hesitant to join the Women in Literary Arts, Inc.-Cebu (WILA) when I was encouraged to do so, more than six years ago. Each member of the group is successful in their own way—their literary works are published in journals and magazines, they have received awards and highest merits, they have published several books, and they are very learned and passionate in their craft. I thought at the time, “How can I possibly catch up?”

But I found that I had the wrong perspective. Although I felt awkward in the first few WILA activities I joined in as a non-member observer and participant, I relish the sincere display of the members’ devotion to the group, their literary genius, and their unique individual personalities. Things snowballed eventually and I found myself submitting my own works as part of my membership application.

In September 2020, I joined in the preparation and celebration of WILA’s 29th anniversary, my second official participation after I was inducted as a member last year. Due to the pandemic and poor Internet connection, WILA held a virtual celebration on Oct. 3 via Zoom and Facebook Live with the theme, Fast Forward. You can watch it here:

Where I bought books during the long months of home quarantine (and what I learned from the experience)

book buying covid-19 home quarantine philippines university press aklatan
During the mandated home quarantine, I have begrudgingly resigned myself to the fact that it will be a long time until I get to go out for relaxation and visit local bookstores. This is why I am grateful for online sellers and shops who made book buying a satisfying and convenient experience. Satisfying, because many of them still update their inventory and I consequently fall into the comfortable trap of reading book blurbs, book reviews, and their first pages--part of my usual book buying process. And convenient, simply because they offer various payment options, primarily cash-on-delivery. 

I bought books from the following stores during the long months of home quarantine. The links indicate only the sites where I did my book shopping. 


Unconventional short stories of Haruki Murakami

First impressions count, as the trite saying goes. For the most part, I agree. When I get my hands on a book, for instance, I undergo a certain ritual−I gaze at the front cover design, I read the blurb on the back cover, I skim through the table of contents (if any), check the readability of the font size, and finally and most importantly, I read the first two pages of the story. If, during this last procedure, I find the writing style interests me very much and the book passes satisfactorily my other indicators, I will buy the book.
However, confined during the home quarantine, I don’t have any chance at all to meet face-to-face with books, conduct my bookish ritual, and form first impressions. In fact, I was not able to buy any print books for four months (April to July) because of government policies that severely affected domestic and international shipping. When local couriers seem to start getting back on their feet recently, I started browsing local bookstores online. But without my usual physical process of checking on books before buying them, I was at the mercy of book reviewers on Goodreads, Amazon, and their blogs.

What I have read (and my favorite books so far in 2020)

2020 Reading Challenge Nancy Cudis Cebu Reading Club Cebu Book Club
At the start of 2020, I had planned to read 12 books. One book a month. It’s achievable and time-bound. No pressure. I only read 11 books in 2019 after all, so one more book added to the pile makes little difference. What I did not expect was a reading frenzy fueled by, among others, frustrating months of home quarantine as a preventive measure against COVID-19.

Turn off the TV. Snub the social media. Take a break from writing. And just read. Read, read, read. One book after another. When I finished reading 12 books in February, I increased my target to 15, then to 20, then to 25. My target now is 50 books by the end of the year. So far, I have finished reading 39 books. That is 15 more books read in 2014 when I was also hit by the reading bug right after I left a stressful eight-to-five job.

A Quarantine Reflection

A Quarantine Reflection Nancy Cudis Ucag

When I join online meetings, my ears would itch and turn numb each time someone would mention how we must learn to cope in this “new normal,” hence, we must meet online temporarily until current circumstances permit us to do otherwise.

Nobody seems to question the validity of the phrase or doubt the deflated impact that the term “new normal” aims to encompass. There is nothing new about meeting online when 70 million Filipinos are using chat apps to communicate on a daily basis. And there is absolutely nothing normal about a situation wherein I cannot stop, stand in close range, and complain comfortably with a neighbor about the price of rice on my way to the supermarket because I have to brisk-walk my way through all of my errands and come home with an ardent prayer that will last for a week, hoping that I did not contract the virus.

The term is a lie I will use to convince myself that the popular synonym these days for an unacceptable abnormality is “new normal.” While words such as these are normally important for me to make sense of things, I have been too busy processing the magnitude and coping with the effects of COVID-19 on my personal environment to give credence to new word coinage. The busyness has to do with overwhelming simultaneous shifts with the way we think, act, and do things.

The most beautiful can be the most aggressive

I have been meaning to share my gardening experience with purple queens, a special kind of plant, early this week. However, my roller-coaster thoughts on COVID-19 took over the blank sheet and before I knew it, I kept appealing to people to stay at home and to stay strong. My personal plea from the heart remains the same: Stay home. Stay put. Stay strong. Stay safe. Stay hopeful. Stay. Stay. And live.

As the entire province of Cebu, including its component cities, is now under lockdown, forcing residents to stay within the confines of their homes, people are sharing through social media how they are turning to reading and gardening to pass the time. To do any one of these things despite the constant barrage of news about COVID-19 hovering behind our necks like an eerie whisper in the wind is already a feat in itself.

Some of us work from home on top of worrying about food supply and the overall well-being of our family members. In my case, I work from home. I have always worked from a home office for the past six years, but the set-up pre-coronavirus has been generally worry-free. I teach from home now as well and the shift has been a pick-and-shovel experience for the class in the past two weeks because of the additional administrative requirements we need to fulfill. However, no matter how busy it can get, there is always time for gardening.

Stay strong. Stay hopeful. Stay.

Stay home. Stay safe. Against COVID-19.
In these abnormal times, as we try to live through the motions of time with an infectious disease in the pervasive backdrop, the life of bookworms and micro-business owners like me is also disrupted. In my case, the world is distracting me from reading, from working and even from writing with my usual focus and absorption. I am frequently tempted to leech off information, both negative and positive, from social media every other hour, hoping to connect dots of rationality and logic in human behavior, to discover glimmers of government action, to temper my fears. Each time, I would be overwhelmed by the amount of fake news and by the capacity of the people to produce negative energy and go against basic prevention tips. That search for hope, for a speck of silver lining is replaced by gut-depth dread that we will be our own sad undoing in the future.

These past two weeks are the longest I have ever lived through, longer than the time I spent with my husband-then-boyfriend when he was shot, nearly went into critical condition, and spent two weeks in recovery. I grapple to make sense of what is happening and, when I couldn’t, I would channel my tears to my heart and hold them tight there because my focus now for my family is one grateful day of home quarantine at a time. My appeal to you is to be strong, physically and mentally, while you stay safe and secure in your home. Eat properly, exercise, sleep enough, listen to positive music, pray, laugh, enjoy each moment. Find strength in God and in meditation, tend your inner peace, focus on the important. Even when the news of the infectious disease steals your time when you worry, it should not rob you of the opportunity to live as a blessed human being, a creation of God, gifted with a new day of sun, land, air, water, and the constant hearts of those who love you.

Stay home. Stay put. Stay strong. Stay safe. Stay hopeful. Stay.

Stay. And live.

My Bible reading experience, from childhood to the present

Nancy Cudis Ucag Bible Reading Bible Studies
If asked to name a book I have read that I will never forget in my lifetime, I will probably request for allowances and ask that I can name not one but a few. This is because I read more while working through my businessmore than I possibly could if I am working in an 8-hour office job and commuting through a two-hour traffic 20 times a month. After I left a stable job in 2014 to venture into a path with only God as my heart’s companion, I read 30 books within a year. It is nothing to brag about, of course, because, in my perspective, it showed how deprived, how starved for reading I was during the years I was intensely focused and almost horse-blindered on my corporate work.

To answer the question on the unforgettable books I have read, I am at a crossroads, just like when I am asked where my favorite places to go are or what my favorite desserts are. I can mention many books. In fact, I can say the books I have finished reading are my favorite books. After all, why and how did I manage to complete them? There must be something in it that got me hooked to the first word to the last. That something may be the moral lessons the story contained or the entertainment value it offered or the graceful composition of words that warm the heart and boost the mind.

However, there is one book that never ceases to amaze me. Over the years, I have built a connection with this book, a connection too mysterious, too deep, even too complex for words. When I was a child, I carried it around because I was told to. When I was a teenager, I took mail lessons about it because I wanted to understand it. When I was an ignorant young adult, I criticized it for the violence it contains. And when I have become an adult with a free will, I open it for guidance and inspiration without a nun or a teacher dictating behind my back.

Yiyun Li’s golden trove of emerald gems

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl chinese literature fiction short stories China Asia
Loneliness beyond words, pain beyond understanding, sadness beyond control. Their “beyond-ness” is what makes them challenging to write and to read. And yet, in her short story collection titled Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, Yiyun Li was able to reveal lonely characters in her own words and made them too skin-prickly real, fill the stories with seas of painful experiences for readers to dive in and discover understanding in their depths, and describe the human condition called sadness so acutely one can almost taste it at the tip of one’s tongue, grasp it, and then, perhaps, contain it.

This was my experience within and after reading Gold Boy, Emerald Girl in January, a tearjerker start to my reading experience this year, a serious deviation in my plan to take it easy and, hence, read subjectively easy-to-read books. If anything, the book made me feel too much, from an Asian perspective while living in a country heavily influenced by the Chinese, to the point that I physically and strongly set it aside once I got to the middle of the third short story titled Prison. Then I stopped for a few days, almost ready to give it up. What more can there possibly be? What more can I possibly feel? I already read some sad short stories by Gilda Cordero-Fernando or those found in Manila Noir. But like a person with a tiny bothersome splinter inside a finger that needs to be removed in order to feel relieved, I returned to Li’s stories with a heavy heart and finished them in the same state.

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.