Friday, December 17, 2010

Well . . . There’s Still Good News

(In which I try to be optimistic.)

On Studying

I got back to school recently and though I was only enrolled for two subjects, it felt like I was studying full-time because of the tons of readings to be done, essays to be written and reports to be studied. But I don’t mind. It sometimes feels better to be the student than to be the teacher. Somehow, being guided by an authority is more secure than being the authority itself. It’s nice to feel this security even just once a week. Let’s leave it at that.

On Teaching Online

We don’t work for eight hours straight. No, we don’t. We’re one of the lucky people who have their own rooms, have considerably long breaks, can access the Internet during those breaks and still get paid for doing so or for virtually doing nothing. That was cool. Until they noticed how really long my break is and decided to put an end to my luck.

Yesterday, I was told to teach a high school student grammar and writing from 6pm-8pm. That’s right. That’s how long my break has been. Apparently, good things never last.

On Teaching the New Boy

The student wants grammar and writing and Brent International School. He shows me his essays and book reports to point out that he knows how to write but that his grammar puts him down. He shows me his report card and his folders to show that he’s not a bad student. He’s not, really. So I told him to just do advance reading and ask me about the things he doesn’t understand. Well, that’s a tough challenge for both of us but that’s what really happens when a student has big goals.

On Teaching the Old Boys

Gerald has been patient with his writing and the boring class time. (And I have been, too.) Jack has been patient with my tardiness for as long as I can remember. I told him about the new project I am on and confessed that I am thinking of giving up the class with him. Incidentally, he was thinking of the same thing and we came up with a consensus. Oh! The beauty of having laziness on both ends!

On Blogging

The best thing about this blog’s being personal-turned-bookish is that it can always go back to being personal when I have nothing book-related to post. It’s convenient . . . and cathartic.

Photo SourceOptimism

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Mentor’s Musing: On Teaching Writing

(In which he finally wrote.)
We reached the chapter where my student, Gerald, is supposed to study narration, finally, after days of procrastination due to the combined bouts of nostalgia, lovesickness and plain laziness. I was so thrilled to teach that I discussed the four major modes of discourse despite of myself, much to the surprise of the wide-eyed East Asian man whose attention shifted from the whiteboard to the sports article on the PC monitor. I know not which he’s feigning attention to but I care not as well. He had his days of unproductiveness; it’s about time that I lift the curse he caused!
Knowing the importance of time and place in a narrative, I told him how he could use order to show sequence.
“In your story, you should always pay attention to the order. Which comes first? Which do you want to narrate first?”
He nodded, and glanced at the monitor.
“Oh soccer!” I muttered under my breath. “Okay, about the order, you may use the chronological order or the reverse chronology. You could also use some flashbacks.”
He nodded, looked at the monitor and clicked on a link.
“Yes! Chronology! I understand”, he assured me.
“Well, for the sake of discussion, the chronological order shows how a story transpires from the past to the present or from first to last. The reverse chronology, however, works from the present to the past or from the last to the first.”
“Why should we use that?” he asked.
“The reverse.’
“Well, it depends on what the writer’s purpose is. Joel Gross in his book The Books of Rachel used the chronological order to link different Jewish families from the past to the current. Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue is presented through the reverse chronology to trace the origin of a painting. So you see, the purpose is the thing.”
“I still don’t get it but, anyway, chronological order is easier.”
As we went on with the writing activity which includes the writing process, i.e., topic selection, brainstorming, outline making and the rough draft, I almost jumped for joy when he actually wrote a topic outline legibly! And wait, he also asked questions like:
How am I going to write the introduction for a narrative? I’m sure it’s different from an example or a process essay.
How am I going to write the conclusion?
Do I still need to summarize in the conclusion?
I don’t want my essay to be too detailed. Can I just write about the interesting things and explain them?
Okay, you may think that it’s no big deal since it’s a writing class and students are supposed to ask questions like these. But considering that a couple of months ago, his colossal interest in writing revolves around the fact that he didn’t want to follow the correct structure and that he didn’t find an outline of any kind important or that his idea of an essay is a bunch of paragraphs with a minimum of five sentences overflowing with conjunctive adverbs and comma splices, yes, this one’s a big deal!
The formula in a nutshell:
Be lenient and practical. Let the students think for themselves. Make a list of topics to give them options. Don’t use Emerson and Bacon to elucidate. Give your own writing examples and let yourself be criticized. Understand their interest and let them write about it. If they happen to be Korean, let them write about Park Ji Sung and prepare to correct a two-page essay. Well, that’s better than correcting four paragraphs made up of five sentences each.
Photo Source

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Words by Angela Manalang Gloria

(In which I’d rather write.)


I was supposed to be writing the continuation of my essay for Asian and Philippine Literature when I stumbled upon a poem whose title was what I needed – Words.

by Angela Manalang Gloria

I never meant the words I said,
So trouble not your honest head
And never mean the words I write,
But come and kiss me now goodnight.

The words I said break with the thunder
Of billows surging into spray:
Unfathomed depths withhold the wonder
Of all the words I never say.

It was beautiful. What I admire most about AMG is the way she weaves reality and the female psyche into her verses. I felt so connected to the poem I can almost claim the voice, of course, if not for the poetess’ superior play of words and thought. But I read it again and realized that the first stanza wasn’t for me. Yes, it wasn’t for me. I mean what I say. The second, however, describes me. What I don’t say I mean more.

Sometimes it’s ironic that no matter how many words I utter, I still run out of ways to express myself. I speak, and somehow it gets forgotten. I write for the sake of memory and they get lost. I thought I knew words. Now I doubt if I ever knew them. No one needs to understand. I don’t understand it, either.
So I’d rather write. Besides, I should be writing now.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The God of Spring by Arabella Edge

(In which it takes more than talent to be an artist.)
Reading art fiction has always been a good experience in feeding the artist in me, and the frustrated one at that. To discover how masterpieces were made, how big sacrifices were done in their creation makes me swell with respect to the trembling hands that wielded brushes of colors to last centuries and make people relive pasts and memories. Their lives, these artists, make me believe even more to the proposition that artists are indeed born. I haven’t read much yet and I don’t know a lot of names whose signatures appear on famous paintings. But through pages of biographical, albeit a little fictional, account of their lives, I am able to know and understand how artists pursue their greatest artistic dreams. I thought I knew and understood enough. Until I read The God of Spring.
The God of Spring is one of the most subtle art fictions in my book pile, i.e., it’s not easy to quickly discern its inclusion to the subgenre. Having found it on a tall pile of cheap books in a bargain bookstore, the only thing that I could heavily rely on is the title printed on the book’s spine. The God of Spring. It doesn’t ring a bell. Nothing to immediately indicate that it’s about a painter and his famous masterpiece. But perhaps it’s the glimpse of what appears to be a small fraction of a painting that compelled me to pick up the book and read the blurb, much to my glee.
The novel opened with the arrival of the French painter Théodore Géricault from Rome. Welcoming him were his benefactor-uncle Monsieur Caruel and his lovely young wife, Alexandrine –whom Géricault had an illicit relationship with. His uncle was oblivious to this betrayal and even commissioned him another portrait of his lovely, philandering wife to show his support and appreciation for the artist’s previous work. And in return, Géricault made love to his aunt with a feverish desire that tormented him abroad.
In the house of his friend (and rival) Horace Vernet, Géricault learned of a political scandal that shook France when he was away – the tragedy of the frigate Medusa. Driven by an intense desire for a magnificent tableau and an opportunity to reel away from Alexandrine and his lustful thoughts of her, Géricault set forth in tracking down the survivors of the shipwreck for the narrative. Then he found out the horrible stories of murder, betrayal and cannibalism that led to the creation of The Raft of the Medusa, the painting that made him known as the Father of French Romanticism.
The painting, with its huge scale of 24 feet long by 18 feet high, dramatically depicts a mass of bodies lunged forward with a great desire to live, their weakened arms waving signals to the blurred vision of their last hope at the first sighting of the Argus, one of the convoy ships to the frigate Medusa. The first sighting. For it will disappear again, leaving the survivors two hours away from rescue. (See the Louvre site for a larger image.)

Deeply moved by this tragedy, Géricault was even more eager to paint. He hired the ship’s carpenter to make a replica of the raft; he studied cadavers in morgues to observe the texture and color of death and even went so far as taking home corpses to observe the deterioration of human flesh. His obsession for his tableau made him able to resist Alexandrine and lose her forever. No distractions and detractions stopped him from completing his life’s work. During a hard emotional blow, he displays an impressive determination by choosing the glory of art over giving in to human pain.

There, it is done, he said aloud, staring at his shaved head in the mirror, proof that he would renounce all society, friends and pleasure of any sort until he had completed his tableau.

He too would incarcerate himself behind thick stone walls. Never venture outside except for the purpose of his work.

– page 210 – 211
At the completion of his work, he didn’t just paint a scene of a shipwreck. He made viewers share the suffering of the wretched men in the raft. His painting offered no redemption. What it showed was a constant battle and struggle for survival. When most artists in his generation painted reclining nudes and Napoleon’s victories in wars, Géricault painted people who fought, not as national heroes for they fought for themselves, strengthened by hope and weakened by the sudden loss of it. How else can an artist show truth? How else can an artwork be more human?

Currently reading

Friday, November 12, 2010

How Would I Paint Thee?

(In which I picture painting.)


That afternoon, Géricault set his canvass on the easel. Such deceit and dissembling he would paint there, an encrypted narrative of illicit love. At Alexandrine’s feet, tethered on a gold lead, would sit a monkey dressed in a waistcoat embroidered with forget-me-nots and wearing a Moroccan hat, his tail plumed against her gown. Géricault was the monkey, gazing up with adoring eyes, yearning for freedom yet unable to leave his mistress’ side. What else in this picture would he pay tribute to their monstrous tryst? Long-stemmed roses arranged in a Venetian glass vase on a table; shortbread biscuits cut into the shape of a heart within reach of Alexandrine’s extended hand; yes, and in the background, for his mistress, he’d paint a corner of the divan beneath the open window . . . And would he dare give just a hint, just a shadow, of a white stocking draped over the back of a chair or flung in a moment of haste across a pillow?
– The God of Spring, p. 46
A couple of months (or so) ago, I posted a comment on a thread about what the cover a blogger might choose for his book if it is to be his life story. I said I would want mine (since everybody else posted what they want theirs to be like) to be a pair of paint-stained hands holding a silver flute with several gold keys. And not only once have I dreamed of doing a drawing of that. But I put that off in lieu of a portrait I can’t seem to finish for lack of time. The portrait was an attempt to reproduce a photograph. And just as my procrastination stretches on, I read a paragraph by Arabella Edge and started to wonder how I would compose an original portrait.

I wouldn’t want the portrait to be stiff. I wouldn’t want him standing like some nobleman proud of his expensive coats and heavy badges. Sitting perhaps. But not the way a schoolboy is expected to be doing the moment the teacher enters the room. No, I don’t want stiffness. I want personality in posture and expression. And there should be passion and mystery, too. Yes, passion and mystery. Like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, or Gustav Klimt’s Emile Flöge, or Géricault’s Alexandrine. Mine would be a passionate and mysterious male.

Perhaps I would want him sitting hunched, facing me. His elbows resting on his knees, his hands clasped under his chin or held out. I would want his shirt off. Draperies would only look good on his pants. Or the bed on which he’s sitting. A couch with fluid fabric covers looks good, too. I would want him to look straight at me with an intent gaze, as if he’s studying me, or the way I would transfer his image on paper. Or perhaps he already knows and he’d show confidence and expectancy. But his eyes wouldn’t be hard. Instead, they would be two brown irises of soft and tender attention. Of faith. Yes, I want him to show faith. I wouldn’t want him to smile. But his lips shouldn’t be closed either. I want his expression to be serious, expectant, wondering, and his lips should suggest that he’s thinking of something to say. For the background I would like a marbled wall of burnt umber and sienna and their shades. And there should be a guitar standing upright against the bed (or the couch). The floor, I would want them cold and dark.

Oh, and in that portrait, I would want him to become a painter, for he paints. So his hands would be paint-stained too.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


(In which some of my senses are deprived.)


I stood firm on the ground like everyone else.
Signals were given.
Heartbeats raced and excitement rose.

And then there they were.
Vibrant and bright and loud.
Strong and powerful and vivid.
Proud amidst the joyful claps of children,
those lovely children on their fathers’ shoulders.
Swaying and singing.
Their faced flushed with the shades of the colors’ gift.

There they were.
Magnificent amidst the deafening cheers of lovers around me.
Deafening, the cheers, yes.
And the whispers too – I can almost hear them.
The self-same words my lips want to utter
to you

Or maybe not.
For I held out my hand to my side and I caught air.
So I held up my palm to the darkness above me
and saw colors bursting in between my fingers.
Bursting and fading.
Rising and falling.
Calling out and running away.

You are like them, the colors of fire and air.
Vibrant and bright and loud.
Strong and powerful and vivid.
Beautiful and distant.

The children and their parents are leaving now.
And the lovers, too.
I’ll see you again.
You and that lovely display of bursting colors.

You –
the lovely display of bursting colors.

Photo source:Fireworks

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Lost Language by Marianne Villanueva

(In which home is still the best place.)

Reading Villanueva’s The Lost Language reminds me of the days when my classes in the university had at least two hours interval and I had to sit in the library throughout the entire period to pass the time. It felt good to pick up a small book and finish it. I especially love compilations – short stories, one-act plays, poems about the darkness of Manila and the backwardness of the provinces. Yes, Villanueva brought them all back. And then some.

What I like about the stories was the distinct Filipino feeling about almost everything. It felt as though I flew to America and witnessed another tale of another brave Filipino immigrant in a cruel city. The familiarity made me feel at home but unfortunately gave some stories a cliché mood. And the normality of a dysfunctional Filipino family, as believed by a character, lingers in my thoughts as I flipped the pages and jumped from one story to another.

Yes, jumped. There are some easy reads. But most of the time I find it hard to grasp the way a part of the story leads to another. And some endings were so abrupt that the feeling of finality was lost.

However, though I jumped from one story to another, I should say that when it comes to the characters, I glided – for the characters in The Lost Language share the complexities of the mind of people in a tormenting atmosphere intensified by pressure and loss.

I believe that there should be a good time for reading a certain book. In the case of The Lost Language, I couldn't say that it’s for either a sunny or a rainy day. The bitterness of it would break hearts during the former and make past wounds fresh and deeper in the latter. But if there’s a time when one wishes to see real life and feelings unfold as one searches for or looks back at the silent traces of his or her being Filipino, this book is a must read.

Photo SourceThe Lost Language

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Unfinished Reading I: Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen

(In which I realized that the darkness within a family fiction doesn’t really suit me.)


Although we were reminded not to judge a book by its cover, I often do. Look. Who wouldn’t love the blackness and the blueness and the drama of an iris? Now, you get the point.

But as soon as you found out that the title suggests bruises and that it’s about an eye that watches and searches and another that watches and hides, you just know you’re in for some depressing psychological read. Which is actually not bad. Until you realize that you’d rather not read at all than be submerged in depression one hot, sunny afternoon.

The first flips of Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue seemed a promising relationship between my eyes and the paper. Frannie, the nurse who got beat up by her husband sounded real, along with her pains and fears and her attempt to normalize a family that is actually rotten in the core. She put up with the physical abuse and the rape and covered the black-and-blue marks everyday with makeup and lived “normally”. Until she realized she could take no more. Then she sought help from a woman in an agency whose job is to find ways on how a victim of domestic violence could “disappear” in the hopes of living a new life. She brought her son, Robert, with her and lived with a new name, made new friends in a new neighborhood miles away from her husband. But the tragedy that haunted her doesn’t make her any distant from the nightmare. And every day she lived with utmost care and paranoiac in fear of being discovered by the man she once loved but now she chose to run away from.

Yes, and that’s half of the novel. Some run-on sentences and sporadic recollections that drove me crazy. But as I said, it’s not really bad. We all have our preferences. Perhaps it’s just because I’m not into novels about dysfunctional families with plots that run like a Jennifer Lopez movie.

But life goes on. In this case, reading does. Besides, there are more art fictions to read.

Currently reading

Photo Source:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Zildjian II

(In which we work for survival.)


With stabbing bluntness of truth
from honest lips and a heart
so ironically vulnerable,
endear yourself to me.

Surrender thyself in impossibly sweet ways
they will never understand.
In so many sweet ways
they will never understand.
For comprehension is futile,
questions superfluous,
reactions uncalled for;
Let’s just breathe tonight.

For a thousand needle points on red, raw flesh,
let me find my remedy from a sentence.
For a thousand questions and repetitions,
find your assurance in tears and
fears that killed me,

Let the world breathe.
Let the world die.
Let the world leave
and never wonder why.
For we are refugees – you and I.
So let us flee where none chases and fate is an ally;
where starry nights are eternal
and surrealism, a fact.

(For part first of this verse, click here.)

Photo Source:
Couple in Moonlight

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


(In which my writer’s block worked with a dose of sentimentalism.)


I stared at the clean, white sheet of blankness
and watched the blackness glide along purity.
Black on white,
Lines on surface,
Curves on flatness,
Words on paper,
Linear movement,
No thoughts.

Your name spoke louder
and stood blacker than the rest.
Black on white,
Curves on flatness,
A word above others ,
Linear stillness
standing solitarily
above thoughtless words.

If you decide to erase traces,
unlock braces and build fences
and hazy mazes, I’ll comply.
Well, a friend doesn’t leave
but stays stamped somewhere deep
leaving traces the way lead does on paper.
Yes, the way lead does on paper
where the point pressed deeply.

I stared at the scribble-covered sheet of white, blotted by brine
and watched the ink crawl to the edge of watermarks.
Lines on surface,
Curves on flatness,
Words on paper,
Linear movement,
Attempts of becoming thoughtless
but not numb.

Then I remembered I was wearing red. . .

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Verses by Funandfearless: Breathing Fire

(In which a fever is just a background.)


Inhaling smoke
bitter to the tongue
and somewhere else.
Suspending breath
for sweetness.

Speaking words
and question marks;
alien sounds to your ear
and somewhere else.
Suspending sputtering
for a sigh.

Breathing fire or barely breathing.
Clicks and tones
and Lea Michelle in my ears
and somewhere else.
Suspending fear
for optimism.

Thinking purple,
seeing violet in my eyes
and everywhere else.
Suspending now
for infinity.

Photo Source:
Purple Smoke

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

(In which love governed.)


The life of an artist in 17th century Rome wasn’t easy. And so was the life a Roman woman. How hard is it then, given these circumstances, to be both a woman and a painter in one of the most highly-regarded art cities during the Baroque period? Artemisia Gentileschi knows.

At seventeen, she was exposed to the cruelties of life. She was raped by her teacher, betrayed by her father and abandoned by her husband and lived to return to the shockingly unforgiving harshness of her city. All of which she was able to endure in the name of art. And no public humiliation, no betrayal by blood and man, no rejections, not even gender discrimination, limited her love for it.

Her paintings depicted women. And when she painted a woman, she painted her life by trying to relive history in her mind and thus trying to feel what her model could have felt. That’s how she did Judith. She though of the emotional unpleasantness that could have taken hold of her upon deciding to slaughter Holofernes in order to save her people – the internal humiliation as she seduces him, all the while thinking of ways to delay the lovemaking and finally, the way she mustered the strength of both heart and body as she beheads the unconscious invader.
When she painted a woman, she sees her as a hero and not a mere carrier of a body to be stared at in lewd voyeurism. She maintains the emotion of the moment. The heart of the story. And so she painted the nude Susanna as a riveting picture of a threatened beauty, with modesty, innocence and shame all working harmoniously.
When she painted a woman abused by a man and further tortured by society, she used her brush as a conduit of her own pains. She sees her as a rational human being capable of doubt. She suspends popular belief for realistic human emotions. With this she painted Lucretia, a legendary woman who was raped and committed suicide, as a person who didn’t choose death deliberately, but a woman torn between choosing life over death and vice versa. Just when the public expected a spectacle full of blood, she gave them something to think about.
In The Passion of Artemisia, Susan Vreeland once again shows how a woman conquers her own fears as well as her personal and socially-established disadvantages so powerfully that she was able to present pain as one of the colors to contribute to the greatness of masterpieces. Her attempt to understand the artist’s heart and mind deeply, combined with the vast knowledge of hue names and artistic styles gave the novel a sturdy bridge from the characters to the reader. However, it would have been better if the settings description was as vivid as the varying tones and wonderful layering of pigments on canvass. But as one reads how a mind and heart of a very sensitive artist as Artemisia collaborate (or in some cases, conflict) to create a painting of a woman as heroic as the artist (unconsciously) is, the pleasant feeling of seeing how a beautiful soul mixes color and emotion and triumph and make a legacy to last centuries holds tightly and lingers. Then it stays, creating an image stronger and more graphic than towers and buildings with complex architectural designs.

Vreeland presented Artemisia as a woman of depth, feeling and love. The way she loved her art was moving – the incessant sketching and brainstorming, the relentless attempts to master the craft, the people and feelings she has to let go of and the lifelong journey towards artistic greatness.

One of the lessons I learned in art school was to love art and it will love me in return. It will take a long time and may not come as easily as I want to, but it will. And in the case of Artemisia Gentileschi, it sure did.

Currently reading:

Photo source
Judith Slaying Holofernes, Susanna and the Elders, Lucretia, Black and Blue

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Musings and Waiting

(In which I wallow in this “perfect” combination.)


Not being able to finish an art fiction or start an art work in lieu of the most important phone calls is something I won’t consider as a heavy sacrifice. Not even a sacrifice. I do what I choose with someone I chose to be with. We don’t look at things as troubles when they make us smile – happy even. Yes, they're not sacrifices. They're blessings. For when you finally found yourself willing to give up the little things you like for something big – for that thing that you love, it’s a blessing. Life has taken a new course and you’re on your way to completion. In my purview.

But my big things and blessings always come with sacrifices. Oh! The irony of happiness! And what sacrifices? To tire of being stationary and immobile. To hate one's self for being impatient. To resist illogical reasons and childish demands. To suppress urgency and restlessness. To set aside selfishness and conventions. To wait.

Yes, waiting. And what is more torturing that the silent and slow brushing of time against one’s stillness? What is more puzzling than the ignorance of tomorrow made more complicated by fateful surprises? What feeling is more enigmatic than the emotional outbursts that contrast each other when we wait? Oh, please, let the waiting end.

Verses by Funandfearless: Cycle

fluttering and dancing
in my stomach;
An intensified waltz
day after day.

ringing and humming
in my ears;
Higher elation
minute by minute.

rushing and pulsing,
heavier thumps
as the clock strikes time.

Tick . . . tock . . .
Tick . . . tock . . .


Once . . .
Twice . . .
Thrice . . .

And it starts
all over

Photo Source:

Thursday, September 16, 2010


(In which I risk . . . and rise.)


I hate promises
uttered with a smile
or an intent gaze stretching to the future.
I hate promises
of circles and hearts and infinity;
of cold white,
of scented orange,
of blazing yellow
and of cool green.

I hate promises sang with songs
and strings and beats and dances.
I hate promises witnessed
by the proverbial moon and stars
or by the four mundane walls.
I hate promises locked in clasped hands
and assured of tears that never will fall.
It’s the self-same tears that shall wash them.
I hate promises and bodies
intertwined in embrace
then later divided by a push and a hiss.

I hate these.
And you know it.

Now should I hate you for promising
promises with a voice as beautiful as fire
and a soul equally flammable as mine?
Should I resist and defend,
build a wall and hide?
Or should I listen and cry,
let all the hatred go,
the coldness thaw,
and my love for you overflow?

You know what I did.

© September 12, 2010
2:40 PM

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

(In which later is better than never.)


Upon realizing one’s failure in a later time, one hurries to make up for all the time lost. And then another realization will appear – that the time remaining is still insufficient. What was gained is to be cherished and what was lost is lost.

This, I believe, is one of the many things the Queen found out after reviving her penchant for reading, which actually was triggered by an obligation. (She thought it was compulsory to borrow a book from the mobile library.) And she borrowed books after another, hired Norman (who used to work in the kitchen) to be her amanuensis, made lists of her to-be-read and practically urged everyone else to read. Not only is her sudden predilection for books deterred her fulfillment of her royal duties; it also became a reason for her social and personal (especially fashion-wise) skills as well as her sanity, to be questioned.

Humorous and reflective, The Uncommon Reader isn’t only a story of a literally and figuratively uncommon bookworm. Alan Bennett weaves a story showing what reading really is and what it’s not, what we look for in books and what we gained from reading and eventually, what we want to do with what we learned.

For a better post about this novel, please check out . . . Wait, and I have to remind you that I will actually know if you left this site for the link. Just kidding. Check out the review of The Uncommon Reader on Aldrin’s The Pollysyllabic Spree here.

Currently reading:

Photo Source:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


(In which arts and emotions fused in an instant.)


A tap and a crash and a strum reverberating slowly,
the feeling of the bristle and wet paint on my skin,
uttered poetry in my ears
and a surreal image.
A surreal feeling and a romance,
audible and invisible
but impossibly palpable and sweetly felt.
Whispers into the darkness and flesh
tightening and melting through promises.
What more can I ask for than the reality caused
by a glimpse
– an actual glimpse –
of you?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey

(In which the unsaid are all that matters.)


Hickey’s debut novel reimagines the relationship of Emilie Flöge with the Viennese artist Gustav Klimt. Since my acquaintance with Klimt’s life and works is embodied by (only) the knowledge of this painting The Kiss (which fortunately was the focus of this novel) I researched a little about Klimt and decided that the novel will be a little heavy to the heart.

It took me a long time to finish the book, the initial reason for which was work and the secondary, the depression. For a woman to read something about a woman and a martyr for a man who doesn’t seem to know what he wants is such a huge source of disappointment and melancholia.

To Emilie, Gustav was a teacher, a friend, a brother, a lover and a man she loves deeply – of that I am sure. But whether Emilie was more than a student, a friend, a sister and a lover to Gustav remains a historical enigma. Art lovers will know how their affair ends with Gustav’s death and how another blow of confusion mixed with regret shook Emilie after knowing that hers was the name Gustav uttered in his last breath.

Unlike any of Gustav’s women, Emilie didn’t demand (at least not in the book). She took what he gave her. She forgave without an explanation from him. She loved him when he’s present and missed him when he’s gone. She nursed him in his sickness and waited for his return. She knew his mistresses but didn’t fret in public. Basically she knew what to do when she’s with Gustav. She knows better than to plead or beg for love or marriage. So she never even asked nor confessed.

If there’s something I liked about Gustav, it’s his reticence. But unfortunately, it is also one of the reasons why I hate him (aside from him being a chronic womanizer). He didn’t write memoirs or even keep a diary. He believed that people will know him when they look at his paintings yet in an episode, he altered a painting to obscure what was not supposed to be known. How then, can an artwork be reliable? His reticence usually solved his problems and got him out of disputes with a woman. But this is also one big reason why he’s misunderstood.

And yet when he spoke, it seemed like it was all too late for assumptions and explanations. And Emilie must have regretted that she never asked.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Drawing 101: The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey

(In which I try to give you online drawing lessons courtesy of a novel.)


So I haven’t written for weeks. And I thought I dedicated myself in posting a new entry per week. As if these were not enough, I haven’t finished reading Hickey yet. And to compensate for the display of abandoning myself to procrastination, I am writing an online lecture on what to expect and do on the first day of a painting/drawing lesson. And please pardon me for the sporadic interruptions brought about by my stream of consciousness.

“Here’s what we need”, he said brightly, holding up a piece of charcoal he dug from the bottom of the box.

“I brought pencils,” I said, showing him the brand-new tin case.

“It’s too early for pencils,” he said. “Charcoal first, then pencils.”
Looking back to all those years I’ve learned how to draw, I never remembered using charcoal. It seems like it has become a specially separated lesson on drawing and not a part of a series of medium. My other classmates who, back then, studied portraiture, used charcoals after we all learned how to shade with our Hs, HBs and Bs. Because the main sequence is that it should be pencils first before colors.

“Are you ready?” said Klimt.

“But where’s the easel?” I asked in surprise.

“Today, we’ll sit at the table,” said Klimt. He swept the red cloth aside. Mrs. Klimt took it up, folded it and put it on her lap. Then he taped a sheet of paper to the table and pulled a brick out of the toolbox. I tried to guess what the brick might be for. To keep the paper from blowing away? To sharpen the chalk? He placed the brick in front of me stood with his arms folded. I waited.

“Well,” he said. He looked at me expectantly. . .

“Well what?


“I don’t understand,” I said. “What am I supposed to draw?”

He nodded toward the brick.
The first thing I have drawn upon entering an art school was . . . my left hand – which I think is more interesting than a brick. Not that I am questioning the author’s or Klimt’s idea of a first subject. I just thought that trying to draw your own hand is an exercise that connects you to yourself. It’s more challenging even, to force an artist to look deeper and make sure he’s going to see his own hand on the paper after thirty minutes.

“Draw the brick?” I said incredulously.

“That’s right,” he said. “Draw the brick.”

“But that’s just . . . a brick.” I knew I sounded like an idiot.

“And what is a brick? He said. He sounded like he was teaching a very young child. Was it a joke? But he was waiting.

“I don’t know, clay that’s baked in an oven . . .”

“Stoneware is baked in an oven, too, but you wouldn’t confuse a pitcher with this brick, now, would you?

This wasn’t how a drawing lesson was supposed to go. I should have been sketching a bowl of fruit, or some bottles, like we used to do in school with out art teaches. I didn’t know how to respond. “No, sir,” I said.

He laughed. “I know you think I’m insane,” he said, ”but this was my very first lesson in art school when I was eleven, and it will be yours. Try to give me a better definition. It won’t hurt.”

I took a deep breath. “A brick is a rectangular piece of clay that is fired in an oven and used as a building material.”

“Excellent. Now forget all that we’ve said and draw what you see.”
Somehow this approach amazed me. Giving a definition of the subject and forgetting it abruptly means to remove all subjectivity or objectivity influenced by its denotation means having to look at an object without bias. If that was my first lesson, how would I define my hands?

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Girl With a Pink Dream

(In which there’s another cool kid in the tradition of Sandy.)


Being given another kid student is enough to threaten me after I witnessed the momentary Wonderful Academy invasion of repulsive and obnoxious male fifteen-year-olds acting like they’re eight. I swear I almost told the manager “No, not another kid!” But fate doesn’t seem to be a monster lately for I was given Jenny, a nine-year-old girl. Sorry boys, girls are generally easier to handle.

The first thing I noticed about this girl (just like about every other female students I had in my class) is her notebook. I have always found the covers of Korean notebooks cute. But more often than not, I need to disregard the cheesy/incoherent lines that usually don’t have anything to do with the cover image.

We started having classes last Friday and two days after, she gave me a gift.
This notebook.

How did she know I am terribly in need of a new notebook? In fact, I have already been writing on margins! Oh! Kudos to her guardian angel!
I have just established my stance on the messages but I gave this one a go. The sentences attempt to be nostalgic but still with the signature incoherence, albeit subtle.

"You are my sweet song and you are a honey melody, the girl who has many pink dreams. I have many dreams and hopes. I feel happiness."
Approximately thirty minutes after thanking her, we talked about the contests she joined, then her dreams.

“Teacher, my dream is to become a pediatrician!” she announced.

“Oh really? That’s nice!” I exclaimed. I’m used to hear children say they want to be a doctor so they could help sick people or help their parents. But I still asked her. “Why?”

She looked at the ceiling, ruminating. Her facial expression embodying her struggle for the perfect words. Then she began.

“I saw the video of Haiti. The . . . the . . .”


“Yes. The earthquake.” she agreed. My heart already melted.

“I saw the hurt children and my mom cried. And I cried, too. So I want to be a pediatrician. There are other kids. And other counties. So I asked my mom, ‘How can I be a doctor?’ and she said ‘Medical school is difficult. If you really want to be a doctor, you have to study hard from now on.’ So that’s what I’ll do. I will study English hard, hard, hard. Then study other things. Then go Harvard!”

I was breathless. I just looked at her typical East Asian face, the several scars and mosquito bites on her arms and the way she messes her bangs when she talks or coolly explains when I noticed her ear skin tag. I wonder how an innocent child could think of dreaming and striving with the inspiration of helping people. Such deep and mature thinking! Then I realized it’s only with a child’s innocence that we see with our heart and think genuinely positive.

“You’re an amazing kid,” I told her. She smiles shyly.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

At Risk by Alice Hoffman

(In which it’s good enough to remind.)

With rose wallpaper and a wooden border of photo frame as its cover, Alice Hoffman’s novel At Risk implicitly promises a nostalgic read perhaps about whose face was once enclosed by the frame. But the pages bearing the “promise” were more than a violation than a fulfillment.

The novel took off with a scene with a family spotting a wasp in the kitchen. Then the problem was introduced when eleven-year-old Amanda was tested positive for AIDS back when the disease was just starting to be known. And then the conflict emerged when the community that the family once thought was perfect collapsed into a neighborhood of overly-protective and panicky parents, cruel and equally panicky children and an unforgiving media. Amanda’s family not only struggled to keep a normal life. They also tried to make their family and a young girl’s dreams alive while painstakingly waiting for the inevitable.
The author used an omniscient narrator to tell the story of a family and a community confronted by a diagnosis. Having access to every characters thoughts and feelings was supposed to bring the characters closer to the readers but instead, it strangely made the novel a group of distant people whose only connection is the relationship or acquaintance with a sick girl. When every character was meant to revolve around her, they all live a life of their own. They are living their almost reclusive life until Amanda’s sickness (or perhaps even after) reaches its terminal stage, which was more or less 20 pages away from the ending. Not only is the method of storytelling isn’t always successful in delivering the expected sadness. It was also made more confusing, to say the least, by the preponderance of the characters’ first and last names in places where there ought to be pronouns.
Given this plot and narration, it is no longer surprising that the characters exhibited little development. There’s a wide array of characters outside the family’s circle: the doctor (and his family), the grandparents, Amanda’s coach and best friend, Amanda’s mother’s friend (and her family), the medium and another AIDS patient. But as the novel comes to an end, readers might wonder what happened to them and why they’re only presented as if in passing. The ending itself seems more of a subtle display of exhaustion from writing than actually reaching the story’s finality.
But regardless of all these, it is undeniable that the other major purpose of the novel is to create awareness about a lethal disease. For that top materialize, the author shows the frailty of the human heart and soul when struck hard. Likewise, it shows how a child’s vision of life could enlighten people. That someone lives life to the fullest despite the knowledge that death is ironically a breath away, making everyone and everything at risk.


This novel constantly reminds me of the Japanese series One Liter of Tears due to both the positive and negative aspects of the book that I’m planning to post a smackdown between the two. But first I have to secure a new copy of the series. Tell me what you think.

For now, on with another art fiction.

Currently reading:

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey

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The Painted Kiss