Missing the Best of Cinemalaya 2010

There are 365 days in the calendar but somehow, activities manage to clump together on the same dates. Choosing where to go is often a tug-of-war of decisions.

This happened again one Saturday this month. My boys and I had planned on watching as many movies as we could at the annual Cinemalaya (Independent Film Festival and Competition) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), which we do every year. We even invited my sister and a niece to join us.

Suddenly, two other important activities crowded in—book signing at a Book Expo and graduation rites of the university where I teach. It was like being ripped in three different directions all at once. Each affair was important to me.

“How does one decide in a squeeze like this?” I asked my younger sister who always has older wisdom.

“Pick the one where you are most needed,” she said without missing a beat.

Cinemalaya 6 went out the window, so did the graduation ceremonies. To the book expo I went and although I was drooling over the activities I skipped, I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon with kids.

“You're too late!” My friend Lilit exclaimed when he saw me at CCP one week later. “You missed the best ones.”

We missed our first three choices: Two Funerals, Donor, and Halaw. My boys and I settled for other three full-length movies and five short features with snacks, lunch, coffee, and dinner in between.

No, we didn't exactly miss all the good ones—Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (The Trial of Andres Bonifacio) was both poetic and symbolic. It made us peek into a part of history not often told.

A theater aficionado, I was delighted over the theatrical garnishing the director, Mario O'Hara, boldly incorporated into the historical drama. It has to be watched again, to take in all the many symbols and deliberate details (too many, my sons said) the director put into every scene.

The short films I relished. Harang was well-written and particularly riveting in its simplicity. Scooter was rib-tickling and surprising, and P was very creative and heartwarming in a funny sort of way.

The Cinemalaya is a venue for interaction between alternative filmmakers and those in the mainstream. The Cinemalaya Foundation website reads, “It supports other projects such as national outreach, seminars and workshops on production, marketing and distribution of independent films. It hopes to strengthen the presence of Filipino independent films in foreign festivals and competitions, encouraging Filipino filmmakers to enter and be part of the international film circuit.”

Being a part of art development in the Philippines, albeit as a spectator (an avid one!), is a privilege and full-length grace.


Orange for Happy Harvey

Harvey was always funny. Ha-ha-happy! Hi-hi-hilarious!

What would sound nasty from others would be rib-tickling from Harvey.

He colored his world a joyful, cheerful orange.

Harvey was ailing for sometime, bad kidneys from diabetes, but he continued—always looking like a walking box of crayons—to create great ads, and cracked jokes as though he was rehearsing for the grand finals of the “Ultimate Laff-down” comedy competition.

Even in ICU, according to those who went to visit him, he woke up from coma like a Tony Award winner, “Thank you Dr. so and so, thank you nurse so and so, thank ma'am so and so, etc.” When Lucy called him up from the US, it was Lucy who was bawling and Harvey chirping.

It was no surprise that Harvey left word with someone that should he move on to the great beyond, he'd like friends and family to wear orange at his wake.

And so hundreds of us, wearing orange, trooped to say our final good-byes to Harvey. There were soft sobs, whispered prayers, and silent hugs, but bold, bright orange filled the small chapel at Sto. Domingo church, spilling over to the courtyard.

It was exactly how happy Harvey, 44, wanted everything to end—and begin—for his journey to forever future.

Arrivederci, Harvey.

Thank you for consistently demonstrating, in life, God's grace of laughter. It strengthens resolves to endure, in this mortal coil, every kind of pain.


Amazing Maze of a Home

The place where I live is better than a maze. I say “better” because I and its inhabitants can still find our way around—with ease and comfort.

Ease and comfort. Those are twin words which define my home, or the home which I have continued to build over the years.

For me, building a home is a continuous process. And building the structure that makes a home can even be longer.

It all started when my husband and I were trying to find a house we could call our own in the early part of our marriage. Our elder son was five years old, and the younger one was just born.

The owners of the big house (high ceiling, three bedrooms, two spacious living rooms and a dining room which could double as a concert hall) that we were renting suddenly wanted it back, requesting us to vacate the place in three months. We bargained and tried to beg for extension but, no deal.

So we looked around. Our budget, however, was much too small to afford the places we liked. So we decided, upon the prodding of both our mothers, to look for a house we could purchase.

Budget and time were two ruthless arguments which won over our plans; and so we chose the place where we now live—a newly built suburban dwelling place with low ceiling, slightly bigger than Barbie’s house. It had three bedrooms, a teensy weensy living room and an even tinier dining room which was a step away from a cubbyhole masquerading as a kitchen.

But on a wide, airy corner lot it stood and the promise of ease and comfort lured us. We said, “It has endless possibilities!”

First off, it was a miracle that we were able to move in all our appliances and furniture which seemed to float in our earlier “house.”

That was when the urge to do home improvements hit us. A few months later, the many constructions begun. Not all at the same time—just one after another, as our savings would allow us.

Our initial act was to knock down a wall to join two bedrooms and to add a space to the cramped kitchen. It was euphoric. But euphoria dies down, especially since we still felt like sardines in a can. We then built a roof over the wide space connecting to our front door. Having a lanai was like owning a resort hotel—exhilarating! The wind could visit us freely even on a hot summer day.

Exhilaration withers, so we knocked down another wall and built a master’s bedroom at the back.

And a couple of years later, with the addition of a third son, we spent our savings to put up a second floor for our three boys. Without touching the main house, the carpenter (an architect was always way beyond our expense priorities) found a way to build a staircase to the boys’ room.

As they grew up, we needed an additional car which wouldn’t fit our one-car garage. So we built a more spacious garage which ate up some of our garden.

Now I can’t count how many times we have expanded our dollhouse, but what I remember is that during every construction, I had unbridled joy thinking of all the possibilities—a new coat of paint here and there, an additional wall on which to hang some art pieces, an exotic throw rug for the new area, a repaired stool and a sculpture in a corner, and new shelves to house the books we continue to acquire with alarming consistency as a family.

When I decided to stay home and write full time, there was a space that I thought would make a good office. More carpentry for shelves and drawers continued—and before long I really had a nook of my own!

I don’t know when these home improvements would stop, if they will stop at all. In my head, there is always a new possibility somewhere; and it will present itself anytime.

Ideally, one should move into a house with all the family’s needs in mind. But circumstances are not always ideal.

In my case, moving into a house was a case of necessity, if not panic. But looking back, and looking at the amazing maze of a home where my family and I live with ease and comfort, I would not have it any other way. With every home improvement came the excitement one can only experience in an adventure.

I guess that’s how stories with happy endings are written—they start out with a conflict that is resolved little by little, for as long as we all shall live.

(A reprint of my regular column “Happy Endings” in “Moms and Kids” magazine. If you are in similar straits, let me assure you that grace fills in the gaps between possibilities.)


Celebrating Grace

While everyone was still asleep at dawn today, as I got ready for my morning walk, this greeted me at the dining table. Even sons can be sweet.

Today is a perfect time for me to celebrate the grace I have received from the time God breathed life into me inside my mother's womb and up to this day when I am still strong enough to gorge on a smorgasbord breakfast courtesy of dear friends.

Ggie will pick me up in a few minutes and at Bellevue Hotel, we will meet other old-time friends.

Oh, I checked my email inbox and glimpsed a hundred thousand greetings from family and friends! I will read them one by one, ever so slowly, as soon as I get back.

What a happy, grace-filled day it's going to be!

“Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord.” 1 Peter 1:2


Short Sentences

One of my colleagues in the university where I teach is a distinguished British gentleman in his 80's.

He loves writing as much as I do, so each time we bump into each other, our topic naturally goes to what we are currently writing. He has a book published in Great Britain and he contributes regularly to British newspapers.

We exchanged manuscripts one day and as soon as we saw each other again, he exclaimed, “My, your sentences are short, Grace! I haven't read a book written in such a manner before!” I couldn't tell whether he was complimenting or criticizing me.

It doesn't really matter; I can take both.

His writing style (formal and scholarly) and themes (history and world economy) are the opposite of mine. Obviously, he does not read Max Lucado.

In the aftermath of typhoon Basyang, which left us twiddling our thumbs—no electricity, no internet, no phone, no water—I revisited Lucado's “3:16 The Numbers of Hope.”

The title is explicit; it is the verse in the Bible that summarizes the essence of the Christian faith. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

This 26-word verse is encapsulated by the author in four short sentences, in four short paragraphs:

"He Loves.

"He gave.

"We believe.

"We live."

These few words say everything I would have wanted to say about John 3:16.

Short sentences stuck to me like velcro when I overstayed in advertising. I fell in love with the period, the punctuation mark. I couldn't wait using it. Now I often say to my students, who choose cutting and pasting verbose platitudes from the internet, “Love your period. It protects you from making horrendous paragraphs unclear to everyone, including you.”

I respect writers who ignore the period like my British friend and many preeminent literary authors do. (Ernest Hemingway didn't use a period till after 424 words in Green Hills of Africa.) I love reading them, too, but I have a soft spot for writers like Max Lucado.

I particularly like his “3:16” book because in short, uncomplicated sentences, it explains the reason why I live: grace.


Crazy Calendar

The second half of my June was crazy. All my appointments and things-to-do got jumbled, scrambled, and muddled up, overlapping here and there. What I thought was Saturday was actually a Sunday and so on and so forth.

I missed a few business meetings, social luncheons, and deadlines.

Am I going crazy? Am I having early signs of Dementia? I kept asking myself.

I peered closely into my calendar again and, pow! It wasn't I; it was my calendar!

Take note that after June 18, the next day is June 17 (again!), instead of 19. The 19th day is therefore moved to a wrong day!

I don't know how many more people got this calendar as a gift last Christmas (I hope mine was a fluke), and how many of them got confused as I was.

Proofreading is a tricky and risky business. I should know, I came from advertising where one typo error could have a domino effect and endanger the whole account.

I am not sure if the proofreader of this calendar has realized his mistake yet and if he has, he must be banging his head on the wall and wishing he could undo the "crime." It's a feeling nobody would wish upon his worst enemy.

It's the same queasy, nauseous feeling one gets when he sends a private email to an egroup by mistake. Aaaargh!

On this note, should you spot a typo error on this blog, please find it in your heart to also laugh it off and forget about it.

The crazy calendar typo sunk me deep in a mire of troubles, but hey, I came out whole with a bonus of forgiveness from the people whose schedules I bumped off because of erroneous dates.

If this isn't the essence of grace, what is?


Time to Say Good-bye

These four guys were six years of my life.

One is a lawyer (our chairman), one is a pastor, one is a trainer and executive director of a large campus Christian youth organization, and one is executive director of a movement/fellowship of Christians in government. And there's me.

In these capacities, we were all individually invited to form the five-member National Advisory Committee (NACs) of the Leadership Development Program (LDP) of Compassion International in the Philippines.

We had various duties but primarily, we helped identify young Compassion-assisted men and women who have shown potential to become Christian leaders. Through the LDP, the chosen ones (around 35 every year) receive the opportunity to get a college degree and develop Christian leadership skills and abilities.

The five of us were thrust into this role with different perspectives, coming as we were from disparate backgrounds. Once a year, we listened to an average of 60 heart-rending stories of poverty from hopeful scholars—and chose who would join LDP.

Those interviews had been weepy for me, but I always emerged more compassionate and determined to partner with Compassion International in "Releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name."

Three to four times a year, the NACs passionately brought to the discussion table our expertise in our individual fields, which were always miles apart from the other! We laughed, we cried, we argued, we ate, we cracked lawyer jokes, we quoted from the scriptures, we cited facts, we narrated personal experiences—but always, we ended each discussion on any controversial issue with a consensus.

In the process, from each other we learned things we never knew before—and became dear friends.

We also shared the joy of seeing those whom we picked for LDP graduate with a degree, and changed for life—some with honors, and some hugged by their sponsors who'd fly in from distant shores for this milestone.

Each time we met—to review some students' progress—I always felt a see-saw of emotions. Being released from poverty is a painful process, needing prayers and perseverance to keep going. This we recognized as a group, and we shared the pain.

Now six years have passed; and life has phases which have beginnings and endings. And so this phase of my life with LDP has reached the finish line.

It is time to say good-bye.

The NACs was a place of great honor, for which I would like to thank God, whom Compassion International serves. The road forks for NACs—to meet again, surely, at some points in the future.

Meanwhile, I think of the LDP scholars, as though I birthed them myself, and continue to pray for them as I would for my own children.

And knowing we share the same faith—in Christ's saving grace—I am positive that my past fellow NACs will do the same.


First Anniversary Gift?!

"A sewing machine?!" My friends were incredulous, eyes wide with disbelief, followed by laughter.

They didn't actually say, "yuk," but I glimpsed it on their faces.

Instead of the usual bouquet of flowers, or perfume, or anything as closely romantic, Tony gifted me with a sewing machine on our first wedding anniversary.

I remember it fondly as we celebrate today yet another anniversary. I took a shot of this gift—now looking its age but which, with proper maintenance (regular oiling and cleaning), has served me exceedingly well, and never once failing, for many, many years.

"If I were not a writer," I often quip in Q and A fora, "I'd be a seamstress." People laugh, but in truth, I do love to sew. Whenever I feel a need to de-stress, I sew, alter, or create anything—from ill-fitting clothes bought on sale to a doodad for an appliance and furniture. I always have a variety of fabric on stand by.

I sewed the gown I wore to the first formal affair (Rizal Day in Chicago) I attended with Tony before we were married. In fact, I sewed all the clothes I wore to every important event he and I went to after that.

For one thing, on my meager allowance as a student, I couldn't afford to buy party clothes in dollars. For another, fashionable clothes patterns were aplenty in the US for a song. I must have mentioned it to him (I don't remember), and he must have remembered even one year after our wedding.

The only other person who rejoiced with me on my receiving a sewing machine was my mother. She, too, loved to sew and from her I learned the craft.

On my umpteenth wedding anniversary, today, I raise my head up to God for the umpteenth additional year He has blessed us with. Likening my pace with my now aging but still whirring sewing machine, I celebrate the grace which has maintained me.

I feel I am still whirring as I did on that long-ago July 4 when I got my first wedding anniversary present nobody appreciated, but my mom and me.