Concepción the dying kitten

The roads of San Pedro Tunasán were still wet from the previous night’s heavy rainfall when I arrived early in the morning from my night shift. In fact, I arrived an hour too early for the 9:30 AM Mass, and my stomach was already rumbling with hunger. I haven’t eaten anything since my shift, but I still had sixty pesos left. I was contemplating on whether or not I should spend it for “dinner” (night shifters’ equivalent for breakfast) or just pass away the time at the old town plaza fronting the church. I may have a thin frame, but my appetite is Asgardian. So imagine the struggle that I had to go through by attempting not to eat before Mass. I was thinking of imitating what our Filipino forefathers did during the Spanish times: they had to fast after midnight before taking the morning Eucharist. Afterwards was the only time they were able to eat.

I had another option left: continue reading William Pomeroy’s The Forest at the town plaza. However, I was drawn by the speaker phones coming from the church. Fr. Paul Búgay was officiating an early morning Mass for the students of Liceo de San Pedro in celebration of today’s feast day, the Immaculate Conception. I even saw my son Jefe among the young faithful.

But that Mass was far from over, in fact had just started. So I was compelled to wait somewhere else for the next Mass. At the second floor of the parish hall building was a Marian exhibit featuring images that represented some of the most famous titles of the Virgin Mary. I stayed there for a few minutes, then went out for a walk at the old town plaza which I have not visited for months.

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A view of the old town plaza of San Pedro Tunasán taken from the belfry of San Pedro Apóstol Church many years ago (Photo: Filipino eScribbles).

Our city is currently holding its annual Paskuhan sa San Pedro, a nightly presentation of reverie in celebration of Christmas month. That’s why the town plaza looked festive. The thought that my first book was launched here a few months ago, albeit a simple ceremony, still dazes me up to now.

There was no place to read. All the benches were wet because of last night’s rain. So I turned my back from the stage and started to troop back to the church. But there on the wet concrete floor, between the plaza’s unappealing monolith and sampaguita bushes, lay a dead kitten, its black and white fur matted.

Or so I thought; I saw it shiver a bit.

Were my eyes playing tricks on me? I was feeling a bit weak and lightheaded due to lack of sleep and hunger, so I wasn’t really sure if it was dead or not. Only one way to make sure: just go check it out. But I had to fight off man’s natural disgust of being near a dead animal. And as I came nearer, I noticed no stench. And lo, the little furball shivered again!

I imitated a purr (I was quite good at it years ago) just to elicit some response from it, just to make sure that it was really alive. Its wobbly head responded, and it looked at me with very weak-looking and half-opened eyes.

It was still alive!

The poor thing surely bore the brunt of the previous night’s downpour. Now it was dying! I looked around me, looking for help as I was helpless in helping the poor kitten. There were a couple of street sweepers around cleaning up the plaza for tonight’s Paskuhan. One elderly sweeper brushed past near me. I pointed towards the kitten for him to see, hoping that he might take pity on it. But he muffled out something gibberish which translated to me as “just leave that li’l tomcat alone to die on its own”.

Bringing it home with me was not an option. There’s no spot in our small apartment unit for the kitten to stay, and my wife is not fond of keeping pets. Then I saw a girl, aged four or five. She looked like an indigent (there are many of them at the plaza). I talked to her and tried to goad her to take the poor kitten home, pleading to her heartstrings that the kitten will die if not attended to. The girl just stood there, gaping at the kitten. Then suddenly I remembered that I have something in my pant’s pocket: Junífera Clarita‘s folded tank top! I’ve been using it for the past few days in lieu of a hankie, just so that I had something to wipe off my sweat (I suffer from hyperhidrosis, thus an ordinary handkerchief is not enough).

Without hesitation, I covered the poor kitten with it, and it shivered all the more when I did so. Darn, I thought. The kitten was really suffering from cold! And it must be as hungry as I was too. I talked to the girl some more. “Why don’t you just take it home and make it your new pet? You will be able to save its life.”

Then she went near the kitten, lifted her small, right foot, and toyed on its head.

OK, that’s enough. Giving it to the indigent girl was not a good option after all. Besides, her mother arrived a few minutes later and I saw her scolding the girl while making unfriendly side glances at me. She probably thought I was some pedophile junkie. Can’t blame her. All moms, whether they be rich or poor, should never allow their little girls on their own out in the streets.

I thought of just leaving the kitten to die. It was dying, anyway. There’s no way I could save it. Besides, I already did my part. I’ve covered it with my baby daughter’s clothing. At least it would die in warmth.

I stood up and started to leave, then gave it one last look…

But I just couldn’t leave it to die! 😞

Suddenly, something came to mind. I do remember having seen a pet store near the back of the church past the road tunnel several times. I wasn’t sure if it was a veterinary clinic or some pet shop because each time I pass by the place I never gave it a hard look.

The kitten was shivering weakly. Time’s running out. I have to save the poor thing. But I didn’t have the heart to carry it. So I sprinted like mad from plaza to store which was several meters away, hoping against hope that somebody there would come with me to the plaza. I never minded the people who were looking at me as I ran. They were probably wondering why in the world was I running so fast. I thought about the 9:30 AM Mass as I was sprinting towards the pet shop. Today is a Holy Day of Obligation for us Catholics. I had to attend Mass instead of attending to a dying kitten. But I’m sure God in His infinite mercy will forgive me if I were just a few minutes late, I thought to my tired self. Besides, I’m doing this to save His forsaken kitten.

When I got to the shop, I was sweating all over. Through its huge mirror, I saw an attendant combing a small, white dog’s fur. And then I saw the shop’s big signage. Its name was like a humorous slap in the face: the shop was a pet parlor, not a veterinary clinic!

This freaking town has no veterinary clinic!

I felt like crying. I sprinted back, hoping against hope that the kitten was still there, that it was still alive, that the little indigent girl with her grumpy mother didn’t come back, that the street sweepers didn’t dispose of it. I took pity at the kitten’s fate. I cursed under my breath at both our fate, then cursed again because I cursed on a Holy Day.

I was almost out of breath when I got back to the plaza. The kitten was still there, but it was no longer shivering. I thought that it already died while I was away. But its weak eyes were still looking at me.

I looked up at the church, the voices of the young faithful blurting out from its thick, beige-painted walls. I covered the kitten much carefully and, after  conquering my hesitation, carried it towards the church. I felt the clothing, already wet in my hands. The kitten started to purr and move about weakly. I couldn’t tell if it was purring or crying. But it was obviously afraid. I saw the claws come out from the paws and took extra caution not to be scratched lest I get infected with potential rabies. I had to cross that part of the road between church and plaza where one is not supposed to cross. But I was desperately in a hurry. And where was I to bring the kitten? To the church. To whom should I bring it? I had no idea. Probably to Fr. Paul? But I have to wait for the Mass to end.

At the north transept, where the entry towards the sacristy was located, I saw a group of altar boys preparing for the 9:30 Mass. Fr. Paul was still officiating the first Mass which I noticed was about to end. I hurriedly went to the boys and, with dying kitten in hand, told them about my predicament. Actually, the kitten’s predicament which became mine as well. Somebody call an ambulance! Somebody call 911! Somebody call somebody! This kitten is in dire need of help! But even the sacristans were unsure of what to do. They looked at each other, murmuring, looking for options.

I softly placed the frightened and weak kitten, still covered with my daughter’s tank top, beside a wall where I deemed it was safe. I went to the parish hall to look for some adult help. I’m not sure who to speak to as I was afraid they might think me as some odd fellow. Because in this cruel world where we live in today, almost nobody cares for homeless animals. Has anyone ever thought of the birds and fireflies during a cruel night storm? How were they faring while you and your furry pets are warmly cozying up taking selfish selfies inside the comfort of your homes?

I was able to speak to some young women from Liceo de San Pedro. Students in shirts and jeans. I didn’t know what activities they were doing at the parish hall building, but what’s on my mind at that very moment was nothing more than to save the kitten before it was too late.

A newly arrived lass had a first aid kit in hand, but was taken aback when she learned that the patient was not human. I was about to suggest to them to feed it because it must certainly be hungry, but the kitten looked just like a few days old. It cannot be fed even bread. And it must already be looking for its mother’s milk. Then like a flash of light, it suddenly occurred to me to buy it some milk to drink.

So that’s why I was hesitant in spending all of my money for my own “dinner”! Thanks be to God!

I rushed to the nearest convenience store. All their milks in tetra packs were ice cold. There’s no way a shivering kitten would be able to drink it. So off I went to other stores. I found one from a 7-Eleven outlet fronting the city jail. After paying for it, I rushed out the store like a burglar pursued. I’m mighty glad that the policemen who were all over the place didn’t take me for a thief.

When I came back, a small crowd of high school kids from Liceo have already gathered with the sacristans who were looking at the kitten, and it gladdened my heart. More people, more chances of saving it. When they saw me with the tetra packed milk, they started looking for a bowl or anything to hold the milk. No bowl could be found. So one of them improvised: a plastic cup was cut down with a pair of scissors to make it look like a bowl.

The milk was poured into the bowl. A young lady from Liceo who was holding the poor kitten drew its mouth near the improvised bowl filled with milk. But the kitten was too weak to even stick out its tongue. And when we removed the kitten from Junífera Clarita’s tank top so that it could feed freely, it weakly crawled towards the cloth — it was still feeling terribly cold and was searching for warmth! So one of the girls took a much bigger and thicker cloth for the kitten. I didn’t know where she got them, but it looked like a yellow- and orange-colored flag.

We then tried to feed it some more, and at last it stuck out its tongue and took a small lap at the milk. It was shivering less and less. At least, it was a good sign that the kitten was recovering. I was able to chat with the kids too, telling them that if not one of them would be able to bring the poor thing home, then at least they could take turns of taking care of it within church premises. I even suggested that we give it a name: Concepción, because she was found and saved on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. They all started mentioning the name when referring to the kitten.

But Concepción is a girl’s name. What if the kitten was male after all? Then I thought that it didn’t matter, because I suddenly remembered that even males can carry Concepción as their name. Yes, I was thinking of Ate Shawie‘s former lovey-dovey. 🤣

A few minutes later, Fr. Paul appeared from the sacristy and was joking around with the students and sacristans. And then he saw me, all wet with sweat and a total mess.

Buenos días, padre” I said, as I took his hand.

¡Oh, buenas, buenas! ¿Cómo está?” he said, while placing his right palm over my head. Then I told him all about the kitten. Fr. Paul said that it’s a common occurrence in church premises, that kittens are often abandoned by their mothers. He then directed the young teens to just bring the kitten to somebody who’s name I wasn’t able to hear anymore. At least, the kitten will be in safe hands. I hope.

I went back inside the church, the first batch of Mass goers already leaving. Wearily, I went to the historic Cross of Tunasán to say a prayer of thanks. And when the 9:30 AM Mass was about to start, I gaped by the stained glass window to look for the young lady carrying Concepción in her arms. They were gone. I prayed to Our Lady to have mercy on her namesake kitten.

“But what was the meaning of all this cat caper this morning?” I asked myself. Perhaps none. But that’s just me, trying to connect unusual occurrences and find meaning in them most of the time.

Mother cats are notoriously known for abandoning their litter. If you scare it away, it will be the first to run, leaving its kittens behind. Such phenomenon, if you may, has transferred to some human mothers. We are at a time and age when mothers no longer care for their children — just think of the growing number of abortion cases all over the world, or cases of child prostitution, or those who are left to fend for themselves as child laborers. But the Immaculate Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ never abandoned her only begotten Son, even if He was accused of so many things. And even up to His last moments on the cross, she was there.

May she never abandon her faithful children in Christ.

¡Feliz fiesta de Inmaculada Concepción, Santa Patrona de Filipinas!

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A new reason for me to love Lucena City

My parents have always known that I have become a self-taught historian over the past few years. But I haven’t heard any comment from them about it. To them, it was nothing short of remarkable. Or so I thought.

Last Friday, November 3, was something special. It was when I was invited by Mr. Vladimir Nieto’s Konseho ng Herencia ng Lucena (Heritage Council of Lucena) to speak in front of a live audience at Pacific Mall regarding some old Spanish documents that I have discovered (from the Portal de Archivos Españoles, a website that will never be utilized nor enjoyed by my contemporary Filipino historians for obvious reasons) proving that the date of establishment of Lucena, Tayabas Province —my place of birth— was neither on 1 June 1882 nor on 20 August 1961 but on that very date of the event itself: November 3. Those documents prove once and for all that Lucena has just turned 138 years old last Friday.

But all that was secondary, at least from a personal perspective. I had one other important thing in mind: to make my parents proud of me, something that, I believe, I have never done to them before. I confess to all of you that I have never been a good son to them, the kind of son that many parents can be proud of. My mom was just thrilled to be there. And I was surprised that my dad appeared at the event. I invited him weeks before, but he did not give a clear confirmation if he would attend. That is why I honestly didn’t expect him to arrive. But he did.

I may not be able to reconcile my parents anymore. But at the very least, both of them were there to support me. They saw for the first time how I function as a historian. And the most amazing part of this was that it all happened in the city where I first breathed, where I had my first taste of sunshine, and where I first cried. And to the best of my memory, it was the first time that they were with me, in the city of my birth. We and all the others who were gathered last Friday at Pacific Mall Lucena celebrated for the first time in history the foundation date of Lucena. It was both a public and personal triumph for me. I couldn’t have asked God for any other “pacific” reunion.

I keep on telling everyone that, while I was born in Lucena City, the place is still a “stranger” to me because I didn’t grow up there. But not anymore. November 3 was a gift from God that I didn’t even ask from Him. He truly works in mysterious ways. 😇

Anyway, I’ll be blogging more about the details behind this event soon. ¡Hasta la vista!

Un poema dedicatorio escrito por Edmundo Farolán

Tuve la sorpresa de mi vida la mañana después de la Fiesta de la Natividad de la Virgen María. Al iniciar sesión en mi Facebook, vi que el Sr. Guillermo Gómez Rivera publicó un poema en mi muro. No tenía título, ¡pero inmediatamente noté que era un poema dedicatorio para mí! A primera vista, uno pensaría que el Sr. Gómez lo escribió para mí, pero no, porque es diferente el estilo poético — fue en verso libre con rimas adecuadas; el Sr. Gómez casi siempre escribe en endecasílabos. Resulta que este poema fue compuesto por uno de sus amigos más queridos y compañero suyo en la Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española: ¡el Sr. D. Edmundo Farolán Romero!

He conocido al Sr. Farolán desde hace mucho tiempo, cuando yo estaba en mis 20 años, pero sólo a través del Internet. Ambos somos miembros del Círculo Hispano-Filipino, un foro en línea (en Yahoo Groups!) que fue fundado por Andreas Herbig, un ingeniero alemán que, de todas las personas, estaba muy alarmado con la disminución de la lengua española en Filipinas (por un tiempo, yo era el miembro más joven de este grupo).

Pero la primera y única vez que lo conocí al Sr. Farolán de carne y hueso fue durante la presentación de su libro Itinerancias (colección de versos suyos) en el Instituto Cervantes de Manila, y eso fue hace una década.

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Izquierda a derecha: un servidor y los Srs. Edmundo Farolán RomeroFernando Ziálcita Nákpil, y Guillermo Gómez Rivera, 22 de mayo de 2007, en el Instituto Cervantes, Ermita, Manila.

Gracias a Facebook, hemos estado en contacto desde entonces. He aprendido a llamarle cariñosamente como «Papá Ed». Incluso tengo una copia de su última novela, El Diario de Frankie Aguinaldo, un cuento llena de patetismos psicodélicos, divagaciones filosóficas de la mente, y soledad poética. Realmente es algo que no se puede dejar de leer especialmente por los «bohemios». De todos modos, sin más preámbulos, les presento orgullosamente la última obra de Papá Ed…

A ti joven
Esperanza de nuestra patria
Con chivos y sombrero tropical
José nombrado por nuestro héroe nacional
Alas cual alas de los Ángeles buenos de Dios
Esperanza de este siglo de Facebook y Blogs
Vienes joven para instalar la nueva internacionalidad
Conectando a todos nuestra identidad
Nuestra hispanofilipinidad
Sangre y hueso según Recto nuestra hispanidad

Esperanza, joven Pepe, de nuestro futuro
En esta edad de computadoras
¡Vuela con tus alas
Para continuar el legado
De nuestros patriotas!

Derechos de reproducción © 2017
Edmundo Farolán Romero
Vancouver, Canadá
Todos los derechos reservados.

Rara vez recibo algo que esté escrito para mí, mucho más un poema compuesto por un escritor reconocido en el mundo filhispánico, así que imagínense lo emocionado que estaba cuando lo leí por primera vez. Y el único otro poema que se escribió para mí era del Sr. Gómez, titulado «Boda Extraordinaria (A Pepe y Yeyette)» pero ese poema era también para mi mujer con motivo de nuestra histórica boda filipiniana que sucedió hace cuatro años. Sea como fuere, ¡ahora tengo dos poemas dedicados a mí que fueron escritos por dos gigantes de la Literatura Filipina que también son los miembros más antiguos de la Academia Filipina y por no hablar de ganadores del Premio Zóbel!

Estos poemas de los Señores Farolán y Gómez siempre me mueven a las lágrimas. Siempre consagraré estos bonitos versos suyos en mi corazón cervantino por el resto de mi vida quijotesca.

What I think of Duterte’s war on drugs

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Millions of my fans must be wondering what I have to say about President Rodrigo Duterte and his controversial war on drugs. Last year, when I suffered from a severe depression and shut down my two world-famous blogs, I read one online comment from a detractor that the main reason why I ended my highly profitable online writing career was that I feared the new presidency.

PEPE ALAS

Also, those millions of fans are still puzzled whether if I’m a “Dutertard” or not. It’s been more than a year since Duterte won as president but I haven’t written anything extensive about him at all.

I think it’s now time for me to break my silence. So just click here and see for yourselves what I really think of President Duterte and his bloody war against drugs.

Enjoy your weekend! 😊

The irony about the Velarde map

Exactly a week ago, Bartolomé Arnáiz, Sr., the father of my best friend Arnaldo, passed away. He would have turned 81 today, on the feast day of his namesake saint. Fate could have waited for at least another week not to take him away, to at least allow him to celebrate one more year, but didn’t allow him anymore. I am astonished at such deaths. I suddenly remember my paternal grandmother who died on the night of her son’s (my father’s) 59th birthday. Since then, I think my father had no reason to be happy whenever he celebrates his birthdays.

I tagged along my wife and our son Jefe who is Arnaldo’s godson to the wake last Sunday night to pay our last respects. And also to see Arnaldo. We rarely see him nowadays because he’s now living with his family in Singapore. The last time we saw him was last Easter Sunday, during the celebration of his son’s first birthday. Of course we didn’t expect to see him as his own lighthearted self. He loved his dad so much, and it must surely be more than awful to be in his shoes right now. In fact, I remember one time that he told me that the distance of employment to his house served as an important factor if he would accept a job or not, just so that he could be near his parents.

The blight in Arnaldo’s eyes was obvious when we saw him. He revealed to me that he felt a strange emptiness now that his father is gone. I can relate, since I adore my grandmother so much who, coincidentally, also died at the same age as his father’s. But if it’s any consolation, at least his father died in his sleep. It was a beautiful death, I commented. No pain, no hospitalization, no hassle. Just like how our favorite historian Nick Joaquín had left this world.

There’s not much catching up to do. Such activity is meant for happy reunions. However, the history buff in Arnaldo will never go away, even in tragedies like this. And so during the funeral, we talked about our favorite topic, and the only topic that we really want to talk about: Filipino History, and its implications to the modern Filipino era. He reminded me of our mutual ally Señor Guillermo Gómez. A few years ago, when his only daughter had died in Bacólod, he immediately booked a flight for the funeral. But while he was there, he still had time to take photos of Bacólod’s ancestral houses and other historic spots. Of course Arnaldo and Señor Gómez were not being disrespectful to their beloved dead. They are simply passionate people who have a noble mission to fulfill: to ennoble the Filipino Identity. For them, time should not go to waste. Every happening, whether joyful or tragic, must be interspersed with advocacy. Because a person with no advocacy at all is worse than a dead person.

One of the interesting topics that we talked about that night was China’s encroachment of Bajo de Masinloc, otherwise known as the Scarborough Shoal. The whole world already knows what had happened to it: it’s a shoal that belongs to our territory (obviously). Superbully China took it from us. Our country’s previous regime then took the case to The Hague because our military’s too puny to stand up to a superbully. We won the case, but the superbully refused to budge. It did not even take the case seriously. And there’s nothing the United Nations can do to stop this superbully from giving us back what really belongs to us.

However, what interests us both is not the decision of The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration to rule against China but the steps which the Filipino contingent did to win the case. One of the things that they did was to use Filipino History as evidence against China. I’m specifically talking about the 1734 Murillo Map, said to be the “Mother of all Filipino Maps”.

The map took its name from the cartographer who made it: Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde y Bravo, a Jesuit priest (1696–1753) from Granada, Spain. Aside from his priestly duties, he was also a writer, having published various books about history and church matters. In 1734, he published in Manila a scientific map of Filipinas which now bears his name and is now called as our country’s “first land title”. The map clearly labels there all the islands that were within the territory of our country, including the disputed Scarborough Shoal which was then known as Bajo de Masinloc.

The Filipino contingent happily brought this treasured map as a weapon against China’s geographic stupidity. Unfortunately, the superbully never even bothered to send a team to face the Filipino contingent at The Hague. While the map was indeed a powerful evidence, it was rendered useless to international bullying.

But the real irony here, as observed by Arnaldo, is this: we Filipinos have been hating our Spanish past so much for the longest time, even going as far as to say that Spain invaded us and enslaved us when the historical truth says that Spain was the kingdom which created us out of a multitude of disunited and independent ethnolinguistic groups whose territories were not clearly defined. And here we are now, running back to her delineated map to seek help. Shouldn’t we not use this map because, in the first place, it was created by a Spanish priest who belonged to that evil empire that enslaved us?

Spain already shaped our territory a long time ago. It was Spain that made Luzón, the islands of the Visayas, and Mindanáo part of what came to be known as the Filipino State, or Las Islas Filipinas. The Velarde map is a living testament of that creation. And yet up to now, we condemn our Spanish past to hell even as we make the Sign of the Cross each and every time that we needed to do it — ironically another ritual that was taught to us by Spain.

Despite his depression, Arnaldo was still astute of mind during our conversation. And he was right. We only have ourselves to blame. Because we let go of what we already have. Spain painstakingly marked our territories in scientific precision and pointed out which island or shoal belongs to us or not. We were much bigger before; we even had Guam, Borneo, and Formosa (Taiwan). Look at us now. We couldn’t even keep what remains of our territory in a stable manner. And now that an empire, which is perhaps far more dangerous than the previous one that truly despoiled us since 1898, is lurking every now and then, we run to maps and rituals whose creators and progenitors we proudly despise. We are such an ungrateful nation. We truly deserve to be bullied by the Chinese.

In your charity, please pray one Our Father and Three Hail Marys for the eternal repose of the soul of Bartolomé Arnáiz y Cañete. This blogpost is dedicated to his memory. Thank you.

The secret of my name

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Image: TEXTGIRAFFE.

I. THE STORY BEHIND THE GIVING OF MY NAME

My real name is José Mario Alas y Soriano, but like everybody else, I prefer using my nickname Pepe. Pepe is a nickname for José, and I have zero idea as to why.

When I was born 38 years ago today, my parents were to give me the name Jomar. It was a portmanteau of Jo, taken from my father’s name Josefino, and mar from María Teresita, my mother. But my paternal grandmother (my father’s mother) interfered and suggested that I just be baptized as José Mario. I do not know my abuela‘s reason why she chose that name for me. I was thinking, perhaps, that she found the name Jomar odd since she comes from a Hispanic background. Her name, as well as the names of her parents, siblings, husband, and children were all in Spanish. Jomar just didn’t fit right.

Looking back, I am thankful that my beloved grandmother (que descanse en paz) did interfer. Jomar ended up as a childhood nickname which I dumped later on when I started to become conscious of my Filipino Identity (close friends and relatives still call me Jomar, though). Another nickname of mine, Mómay, didn’t survive that long. It was how I was called by my mother’s family members when I was still a baby. Mómay eventually became the nickname of my eldest son, José Mario Guillermo II Alas.

When I got older, I realized that my grandmother named me after the earthly and saintly parents of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps in the hopes that she’d get to have a saintly grandson? 😇

II. THE MEANING/S (ALL THE POSSIBILITIES) OF MY NAME

To what I’ve gathered, José was derived from the name Joseph which originated from the Hebrews (יוֹסֵף). It means “the Lord shall add” or “the Lord gives”. On the other hand, Mario was derived from the Latin name Marius which in turn gave birth to the variant feminine name Mary. In Hebrew (מרי), Mary means “bitter” or “bitterness”.

My middle name Soriano pertains to Soria, a province and city of Spain or its inhabitants. Soriano, therefore, means someone who is from Soria.

My surname Alas is Spanish for wings. But for the indigenous Filipinos (Tagálog, Bicolano, Cebuano, etc.), they use Alas for playing cards (pronounced as /aˈlas/). Finally, in the English-speaking world, Alas means an expression of great grief, anxiety, and the like.

III. ONE OR TWO FAMOUS PERSONAGES WITH WHOM I SHARE MY NAME

Propagandist José Mª Pañganiban, singer José Mari Chan, and Mexican politician José Mario Wong are the famous names that I share my name with and the only ones I could think of.

IV. CREATIVE COMBINATIONS/RECOMBINATIONS OF THE MEANINGS OF MY NAME

José Mario: the Lord shall add bitterness.
José Mario Alas: the Lord shall add bitterness which will cause great grief, pain, anxiety, and sorrow.
José Mario Alas: the Lord shall add winged bitterness.

Based on my 1996 essay “The Secret of My Name” as partial fulfilment of the requirements to pass the subject Philosophy of Man under Michael Ian Lomongo.

Writing prolificity

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Image: FUCCHA.

“Write only when there is something you know; and not before; and not much later.”
—Ernest Hemingway—

Last month, US film company Universal Studios announced the title of the sequel to Jurassic World, that science-fiction adventure film which earned more than a billion dollars two years ago. Titled Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it will be the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park film series, all of which were based on two best-selling novels by the late Michael Crichton (1942—2008): Jurassic Park, published in 1990, and; The Lost World, published in 1995.

Crichton was a very prolific writer. He had published 25 novels and 4 non-fiction books in his lifetime, not even counting several short stories that saw print in various magazines. So prolific was he that there were even times that he was able to publish two or three novels in the course of only a year. And even after his death, three more novels of his saw print. The guy was a virtual writing machine.

One other prolific writer from the US, also a novelist, was Stephen King, arguably more well-known than Crichton because many of his horror novels were adapted into films that played well in the box office. King, who is turning 70 in a few months, appears to be more prolific than Crichton; he has published 57 novels, 5 non-fiction, and several other publications (short stories, novellas, etc.).

Skeptics who have not yet read both Crichton and King might think that, with the rate that they publish books through the years, their works might had been hurried, thus robbing them of quality storytelling. But fans of both Crichton and King (myself included) will immediately tell them that it is far from the truth. Both novelists have crafted into each of their books the kind of entertainment that will glue readers to their seats for a prolonged period of time. Even in fast-paced scenes, readers will not sense any hurriedness in their writing. Each sequence, every subplot, is carefully crafted and well thought out. That’s how damn good these writers are. There is an apt adjective to describe their books: page-turners.

For sure, a lot of writers from the US are page-turners like Crichton and King no matter what genre they’re using. Many of their names are familiar to us (Judith Arnold, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, etc.) even though we have not yet read any of their works because they have become homegrown, always marketed as best-selling authors, which is always the case anyway. Back in college, I remember one brief chat that I had with one of our instructors about these amazing US writers. While our country has its fair share of excellent writers in English, how come almost none of them are best-sellers? Why couldn’t we produce such page-turners? His reply had stupefied me for years: those US authors absolutely do nothing anymore but write. And because they can afford to give 100% of their time towards writing, it is always expected that they can churn out some of today’s best stories and write-ups. On producing excellent writing, King has this to say:

“Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”

But here in our country, the Filipino writer is forever burdened with other tasks other than reading and writing. In his book The House of True Desire: Essays on Life and Literature, National Artist Cirilo Bautista perfectly describes the dilemma faced by his fellow writers:

“…the Filipino writers cannot live by writing alone, no matter how masterful they may be.”

“My magnum opus, The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus… took me thirty years… The enterprise begot another odd aspect by the fact that I stood to gain nothing monetary by its realization; indeed, it depressed me by its fruitfulness and drove me to misanthropy by its selfish demand on my attention.”

Most of our best writers today are those who use English. Young Filipino writers are always encouraged to hone their writing craft in this language. Even the English Division of the Palanca Awards is the most sought-after contest in the country’s biggest literary award-giving body. But up to now, even after more than a century of English education, the only writer we have ever produced to be of the same caliber as Crichton or King is Nick Joaquín, and only him. It’s because the Filipino writer is poor. His writings, if of any merit, will only give him fame, trophies, but not money which is needed to sustain him. Like Bautista, the Filipino writer is always faced with the dreaded reality that no matter how he strives to make his craft the best it could ever be, he couldn’t because his freedom is limited. The harsh reality of making both ends meet weighs more than art, thus jeopardizing the quality of their works. They could have done more, but employment is a necessity in order for him to physically survive. Crichton and King (and to some extent, Joaquín) didn’t have to worry about monetary problems; they were always assured of huge sums of money. That is why they have more time to focus on the creative writing process.

But the foregoing accounts may have not always been the case. In the last century, we have had prolific writers (and researchers) who have poured their everything into their works despite the absence of any promising monetary award. They may not have had published as much as Crichton or King or Joaquín, but the circumstances they were in will astound any aspiring writer today who are also faced with the dilemma of focusing solely on their craft for the sake of quality. Take for instance former diplomat León Mª Guerrero III who was able to translate Rizal’s memoirs and novels despite his political and legal chores. And then there was the daunting task of writing Rizal’s biography even as he was fulfilling his duties as ambassador to the Court of Saint James’s in London (that biography of his ended up first prize in the Rizal Biography Contest of the José Rizal National Centennial Commission in 1961). Years before Guerrero entered the scene, another nationalist, Teodoro M. Kalaw, wrote essays every single day for the newspaper La Vanguardia. He also wrote several books on history and politics despite his schedule as director of the National Museum and as a public servant. Dr. Domingo Abella was both surgeon and historian. Máximo Solivén was writing profound and up-to-date political commentaries in his column at The Philippine Star while serving as its publisher, making him a writer-businessman. So was Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsín, Jr. who was able to helm those biting editorials that we now sorely miss in his defunct Today newspaper while serving as board of director for big companies, one of which was San Miguel Corporation (he rarely writes nowadays as he’s too busy with his tweeting engagements).

However, it should be noted that Guerrero, Kalaw, Abella, Solivén, Locsín, and a few others like them had the wherewithal to accomplish their tasks. They could afford to delegate mundane chores (cooking food, washing clothes, payment of bills, etc.) to other people so that they could go about with their writing/researching assignments without any hassle, unlike in the case of many writers and researchers today. Including myself. With five kids to raise (no nannies!) and a job that requires a rotating graveyard shift, it’s virtually impossible for me to focus on what I’ve always wanted to do: read, write, repeat.

Speaking of my kids, I remember one meeting that I had with novelist Joe Bert Lazarte in some monotonous fast food near his place in Bacoor, Cavite more than a decade ago. He was then helping me out to secure an employment with the company he was working for at the time. I can still clearly remember how he told me that when he had heard about the news of my unplanned marriage years before, he felt disstressfully sorry for me. There was, of course, no derision from his part. He was just aware of the travails of being a writer and a family man at the same time, and his being distressed was simply a show of concern. If I’m not mistaken, I only had one child back then. Now I have five. Just imagine (disclaimer: in no way am I blaming my family for my shortfalls in being a writer).

I also remember one brief chat that I had with poet Radney Ranario many years ago. Chancing upon him as he was exiting one of his classes, he mentioned to me that he was thinking of going on a hiatus from his teaching job to focus on his poetry, even if just for a while. With a frown on his face, he complained that his teaching job, even if it has something to do with literature, was also draining his creative juices.

The likes of Crichton, King, and many other US authors never had to go through such challenges. But Lazarte, Ranario, myself, and a host of other Filipino writers had to struggle monetarily just for our dreamy heads to keep afloat in this sea of unreality.

For my part, I’m trying my very best to follow at least part of King’s advise just to stay alive, to keep me sane, by reading during traffic jams on my way to the office and by blogging every day. That is why if you have noticed, I have been blogging every single day since the inception of this blog last June 24. Ideally, a blogger really has to post daily since a blog is considered as an online journal. But due to daunting challenges that I face (working as a wage slave by night, as a consultant for two local government units by day, and as a dad in between), I might not be able to keep this up. Most probably after this blogpost, I’d be able to blog only during weekends. Or during my free time. Or perhaps only if I feel the urge to write about something that I know (“and not before; and not much later”).

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, talent and discipline are the true accomplices of a prolific writer no matter what the challenges. Don’t give up on your dreams. The Filipino writer simply has to rally on no matter what the odds.

And those odds are not forever. This I believe.