Friday, September 30, 2011

A Mentor’s Musing: On Teaching Writing III

(In which I am slowly memorizing a monologue day by day.)


In teaching the academic essay, we use samples as they make discussions easier. The objective is not to set a standard, but basically to present the wide variety of styles and ideas and all the thrilling possibilities of the written word. But recently, I felt as though this objective wasn’t met, at least in my class. That I have been misunderstood. Or that I didn’t make sense to the student. Or maybe I am wrong in all aspects.
Consider that the student isn’t a beginner. She/He knows what her/his targets are and just want to polish the skills to achieve that. So I give her/him a topic to write about, usually a homework. Then the next day, we edit the work together. Then we analyze the sample essay which, of course, has the same topic as her assignment. And then after a tedious series of comparison and contrast and structure analysis, I was shocked by one of the biggest (and surprisingly, the most repetitive) question I received upon analyzing a sample essay with my student.
“So you mean my style is wrong?”
Of course my answer is always no. But how should I answer that particular question asked by a student who doesn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that there are gray areas in writing? Well, this is what’s running in my mind now.
For example, on the subject of cyclones in rural areas, N.V.M. Gonzales wrote:

The storm had come. The thatched wall shook, producing a weird skittering sound at each gust of wind. The sough of the palms in back of the hut – which was hardly the size of the deckhouse barrel, and had the bare sand for floor – sounded like the moan of a lost child. A palm leaf began to dance a mad, rhythmless dance. . .
Given the same assignment, my version would be:
A terrible storm shook a small and shabby-looking house, creating a sound that resembles a haunting wail. And the background is a swaying green pandemonium.
(Now I suddenly regret choosing N.V.M. but it still renders the effect I was trying to point out. Anyway, I know my example is literary but I know you get the point.)
“The thing is that every writer writes differently. The fact that we all have different opinions about a certain idea proves that. And then there’s the other fact that we think differently,” thus goes my usual explanation. “The samples here are just guides; they are not standards. In the end, you will choose your own style and vocabulary with the knowledge that it has to answer the topic. There is no strict rubric regarding the exact paragraph structure and writing style intended for a certain question.”
And of course, N.V.M. Gonzales has a better way of saying that.

Photo Source:
Trees Writing an Essay

Thursday, September 29, 2011

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

(In which hope outlives death.)

To begin with, there was only sleep, a great, deep well of it, our bodies greedy for the oblivion that comes with safety. . . I think sometimes now about that sleep, for I have never felt anything like it before or after; it had such sweetness that I might be tempted to trade Paradise for the promise of such profound forgetfulness. But we were not ready to die, and on the morning of the third day, I wake to spears of light through broken shutters and a stabbing hunger in my gut. I thought of our kitchen in Rome; its roasted fish, its skin crisp and bubbling from the oven, the thick taste of capon stuffed with rosemary and garlic, and the way the warm honey oozed from [the cook’s] almond cakes, so that you almost had to eat the tips of your fingers to be satisfied. . .

– page 44
Such were the thoughts that filled the mind of a courtesan’s dwarf, Bucino, on their first days in Venice, after they escaped death’s claw at the second sacking of Rome. He travels to Venice together with his bald lady Fiammetta Bianchini who, like him, is bloodied and penniless and whose stomach is empty of food but not of precious gems they had to swallow in order to salvage. And in that great and prosperous city, they work so hard to bring back the fortunes that they lost in the other city, with Fiammetta as the charming courtesan and Bucino the clever pimp. But the way to the lost fortune is not to be taken without the help of an old caretaker, an old friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend-again from Rome and a blind and crippled healer. All of whom are actually threats as much as they are succors.

In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant once again shows her magic with descriptive details akin to The Birth of Venus that it is almost impossible for a reader not to be enslaved by the charm of the characters and places in this unforgettable historical novel. If one finds himself/herself salivating over the picture of a sumptuous meal created retrospectively, then the conflicts due to complicated human relationships can appear as truthful as real life.

Being a story about a woman whose morals and virtues were already sold as part of a training scheme to become successful in the business of male desires, it is noteworthy that the novel speaks of trust, friendship, camaraderie and most astonishingly, love, all throughout. It reminds us how easily friendships can crumble at the sight of jealousy and mischief, how lives were wiped away by lies and deceit. But in the end, the most valuable lesson lies in not what it is seen, but felt.

Currently reading

How To Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster

Photo Sources:
In the Company of the Courtesan
How to Read Lit

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

(In which wars cannot kill dreams.)


This is the first time I read a historical novel written by an African writer. It was lent to me by my boss who apparently and fortunately tolerates reading in the workplace and upon reading the blurbs, I was almost convinced that she just handed me a treasure.

And then I realized that the book would not only convince – it would enlighten.

In a carefully researched and internalized novel, Adichie narrates the life of Ugwu, an Igbo houseboy of Odenigbo who is a revolutionary teacher in Nsukka University; Olanna, his lover; Richard, a British man who aspires to become a writer and is in love with Olanna’s twin sister Kainene. Just like most war-time historical fiction, the characters’ life was peaceful and quiet regardless of Nigeria’s political instability. The British is still powerful in the country and there lies sensitive tribal divisions until a coup, for which other tribes blame the Igbo people, arises. Then the massacre of the Igbo follows, leading the way to a secession that separates the southeastern territory from the rest of Nigeria. And thus was the birth of the Republic of Biafra. And after a three-year war, it ceases to exist, but the violence continues.

In this moving and inspirational novel by Adichie, she proves how ruthless and insensible wars are, how it turns men into beasts and how fragile life is, all the while promising that choices are plenty and dreams are immortal. It is a touching story of life, hope, betrayal, forgiveness, death and the unending cycle of all these. In her patient narration and realistic characterization, Adichie holds the readers attention and never lets it go. And if one expects death as the most hair-raising conclusion a war story could have, then its conclusion could be an unforgettable surprise.

Currently reading

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

Photo source:

Half of a Yellow Sun
In the Company of the Courtesan

Attending the 1st Filipino ReaderCon

(In which I abandoned my work for more fun.)


It was a long walk to get to SMX Convention Center and we almost got lost in the midst of technicolor banners and busy people and tons of books and wide corridors and a nauseatingly long escalator before I decided to message Chachic and get to the right venue. I silently blamed myself for not checking event information beforehand. But we got there. And that’s what matters.

What followed after getting our seats in the front row of a crowded meeting room (which, of course, is a positive thing) is really an awesome experience. First we’ve got Mr. Carljoe Javier and his speech on book publishing and social media . . .

. . . followed by a trio of online/offline book club administrators who discussed how to manage and keep a book club . . .

, and then a panel composed of five bloggers who talked about their blogging experiences.

And as if that’s not enough, there was food . . .

. . . and a raffle draw as well. My boyfriend won a Twilight movie magazine and I got a bagful of books and a shirt from OMF Lit.

I like all of them, with the bubbly lectures and all. But I especially like Miss Tata of Ex Libris and Miss Gege of Flips Flipping Pages. Aside from their vibrant personalities, I admire their passion for running and keeping a books club which adhere to noble advocacies. It made me proud to have been there to listen to them.

But along with the pride comes the gratefulness to all those made the event possible. By going through the laborious process in pioneering a convention dedicated to Pinoy book lovers, they have made a mark. Congratulations to the organizers and thanks to all the sponsors! Let there be more events like this.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Love As I See It

(In which tradition, talent, passion and romance converge.)


“Love your art and it will love you in return”, our art teacher told us way back in high school. Back when my artistic endeavor revolved around painting. I understand how to love art – to hone my skills and be a responsible artist. But how art can love me in return, I don’t completely know. Until I saw this artist at work.
At first I thought that art’s reciprocal love would only mean fame and money. But it dawned on me that heightened artistic skills come with the chance to showcase love’s beautiful multifacetedness.
It is apparent that the old man loved his art. Resisting the pull of this era of digital photo editing is enough evidence of his passion. And when I saw the forms created by the collective lines on his paper, I was enlightened. Through his art, the artist depicts a person’s love for another – and with dignified justice. The artwork being a conduit of an artist’s love for his craft and a romance between couples is a manifesto that the old man’s art loved him back, indeed.
This is my entry to “Love as I see it". A project of flowers Philippines.