Sunyata

A pause, a deep breath before 2021.

2020 was the year I had been dreading to happen.

Who would have imagined, even, that a global pandemic would happen, and change our lives so abruptly?

It was not even in the picture. Not even remotely in the list of the things that I had been worrying about. Water shortage. Rising gas prices. Inflation. The Taal eruption. The Big One. The Kaliwa Dam construction. The creeping China takeover. The non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise. The Philippine state of affairs, in general. My parents’ fragile health.

For three years in a row, we had been spending Christmas or New Year’s Day in the hospital, thinking it would be our last with our Dad. 

But 2020 finally brought it about, imposed it, even, with such conviction and finality.

It started badly enough. On March 15, 2020, I burned my hand, from knuckles to wrist.

A day after the start of the lockdown, I had a most horrifying mishap with the pressure cooker. I had been boiling some beef for freezing later in preparation of the lockdown. At the time, we didn’t know how long we were going to be cut off from the usual services, so I thought that I will precook some meat for thawing in the subsequent days, to make efficient use of my supply of gas.

It turned out that it was a foreshadowing of the things to come.

The combined lockdown and strict protocols forced Dad to be confined in the hospital alone. My sister who drove him to the hospital, and his nurse who stayed with him the first night because my 83-year-old mom was not allowed to go with them, were told to leave him on the second day, on account of his pneumonia which automatically made him a candidate for covid; by the fourth day, a day after his negative covid results came out, he was gone.

In the three years we had spent the Christmas holidays in the hospital, his room was always filled with us—Mommy, my sister and brothers, his daughters-in-law, his grandsons. My cousins and their spouses and children were always sure to visit, too, as well as his closest friends. It seemed that, despite having received the final sacraments when he had a close call 3 years ago, he still had not yet planned to go. Mommy says that whenever people asked him how old he was, he always said he was 84. Mommy found it weird he said that when he was really just 83, and only now, she said it made sense, he had planned to live at least, up to his 84th birthday.


On hindsight, perhaps the pandemic offered him a chance to spend time alone to quietly and mindfully prepare for his journey. He told me that he was already ready to go, even as early as three years ago when he was hospitalized for sepsis (this was before he had his hemodialysis sessions). But even as he said so, I imagine it was difficult for him to conceive of his departure from this earth, while looking at the details of the house he himself built. He must have worried about leaving Mommy. He must have been sad at the thought of missing out on family trips and foodie adventures, and missing his grandchildren’s milestones.

And hardly had we even recovered from grieving when the House of Representatives finally revoked ABS CBN’s request for franchise renewal after several weeks of hearings. Soon enough, A and most of his coworkers were retrenched, joining the millions displaced by the pandemic.

It wasn’t as if we had not known that that day would come. It was just that we had been optimistic; surely the House of Representatives would consider that employees who will be displaced and the businesses that will be affected by the closure. A and I had been discussing it for at least two years. But the House of Representatives was apparently more vile and indifferent than we had thought. Just like that, my husband lost his job at a company he loved, and a place he thought he will work for till retirement. His was not a unique story. Some of his coworkers had invested even more years in the company than him.

It didn’t help at all that all my freelance projects that were lined up, had one by one been called off. The pandemic brought with it so much uncertainty and feeling of confusion and hopelessness—all plans had to be put off or modified, if not cancelled entirely.

Between A and I, we have had severe financial and career setbacks; we were not new to them, but us both, at the same time? And now that we have Anton, and mortgage to pay? We felt so helpless. And even Anton was aware that Daddy and Mommy were feeling afraid.

Though neither of us blamed each other for our financial situation, the atmosphere at home, aggravated by our self-imposed lockdown despite the GCQ, was tense and highly charged, as if we were waiting for a fuse to blow up big time in our faces.

2020 was a circular stairway that brought us down but thankfully led us right up again.
(Featured image and photo above, Sharjah Public Library © 2019 May T Papa)

Sometimes solutions to problems can come from the most unexpected of places, and they turn out to be even better than whatever you had imagined or wished for. Happily, I got projects from new clients, but they were no match for the job A was able to snag, which came with a lot of wonderful benefits we didn’t even know we wanted. Suddenly we had a turnaround, which could not have come at a better time, and couldn’t have happened if all the events leading up to it hadn’t happened.

In Buddhist philosophy, the ultimate reality of all things is sunyata, or voidness. It is when you feel most empty, and undifferentiated with all the things around you—liberated from false notions of being—that you feel most aware and attentive and open to possibilities.

If it was any indication, even my son had reached this state of emptiness, of resignation. During Ulysses the floods in our subdivision was knee-deep. We hauled books and other important things upstairs. We made the decision to leave things where they were, those which we can repair or buy again or do without. We only had a few hours to decide as the waters rose. Fortunately, the rains stopped and the flood stopped rising a couple of inches at our doorstep.

We were fortunately spared and, consequently, I felt obliged to share a little hope and reassurance, gleaned from lessons learned from Ondoy, that things will get better. But words failed me. It was 14-year-old Anton, who was only 2 1/2 when Ondoy happened in 2009, who was able to put into words what I wanted to say “There can only be better days, after every storm.”

We all had experienced sunyata in varying degrees in 2020, as most of us witnessed how abruptly life can change; we’d seen how even the best-laid plans can go askew. We realize how fleeting life is—how illusory, and how our concerns, so petty. That we are all powerless, seems to be the humbling message 2020 had for humankind. Humans have become so conceited and egoistic, and perhaps this was the cause of our downfall. And with this powerlessness came the fear for the unknown.

2020 gave me a paradigm shift: what if, instead of fearing the unknown, we embrace it, and harness it instead to do something different, unexpected, more daring than we’ve ever done before? What if we took 2020 as a chance to question past choices, revisit old passions, pursue previously unchartered territory?







Of first loves

At the risk of carbon-dating yourself, 😁 what was the very first typewriter you typed on, what did you type on it, and is it still among your collection today?

Mine was an Underwood 18 which my dad bought for me (most likely secondhand because it was a model that was released some 2 decades prior), though it looked and smelled new), for my typing class in my junior year in high school.

To pay for his way through college, my dad had worked odd jobs, among which was as a typewriter repairman/seller, so he knew a lot about typewriters. He worked for his uncle, actually. He said he bought units for 7 pesos and sold them for 70 pesos, hahaha. His favorites, I remember, were Remingtons and Underwoods. When my siblings and I were little, he’d type pictures–nothing fancy– just a row of soldiers (o+_+0+/+11+) or a man with a hat (0 + _)

Before getting my very own typewriter, I’d always had my papers typed by my dad’s secretary, so I still remember very well what I typed on my very own typewriter. It was for my English class, a review of Katherine Mansfield’s short story, “Bliss”. I used to be so embarassed of my super lightweight, all-plastic typewriter, and envied my classmates’ Olympias and Smith Corona portables, but, oh, what I would give to have that Underwood 18 again! It was stolen during a break-in to our old Cubao apartment after we’d moved to Cainta. The thief had great taste; he also stole my dad’s Yashica Electro 35 rangefinder, and his high school baseball bat and mitt (which he used when he played for Arellano High), too. Sometimes I browse FB Marketplace postings for these items, especially now that my dad is gone.

My dad ‘s high school pic. He stopped going to school after finishing his elementary studies.
They were so poor that his father could not afford to send him and his siblings to school beyond
elementary. My dad did not want to end up being a farmer like my grandpa, so he took on odd jobs
to save up so he could go back to school. He bought and sold used typewriters at one point.

Featured image courtesy of https://www.instagram.com/leahkelleyphotography/

A field guide to hunting down script typewriters.

And just like that, I collect typewriters now. I started with my first unit in October 2020. By December, I had 5. My very last and cheapest purchase was a 700-peso Adler Junior 10 which I felt a little guilty getting for so cheap, because it still works. But the seller (who had written her name on it with a permanent marker, but which I can easily take out), it turned out, when we met her, seemed only too happy to get rid of it. A drove me 6 kms to Quezon City to pick it up. 700 pesos was hardly even enough for a day’s worth of groceries, I thought, as she handed me her typewriter which she had used, she told us, as former secretary of the association of tricycle drivers in their area. (True enough, though the route to her street was circuitous and confusing because of the narrow streets, her house was easy enough to find; it was right where the Brgy Holy Spirit tricycle terminal was.)

Collecting typewriters is addicting, as I had been warned. There will always be an excuse for you to scour the FB Marketplace for a new posting, and there will always be an excuse for you to not look the other way, especially if it has a good price on it. But typewriters take a lot of space, and I realized that I might not really be that much of an addict after all (thank goodness!), especially as I had already found a nice typewriter with a script font, and I don’t mind so much that it is a not so glamorous nor rare a find, and not so old. What I do appreciate about it is that it has a beautiful script font.

So from now on, I resolve to only look at typewriters with script or unusual fonts, if I am to collect any more typewriters. Am keeping my script Olympia Traveller Deluxe S, for sure. Will also be keeping my 4 others for the meantime, if only to satisfy my desire to learn how to clean and recondition units.

So here is a handy guide that I had collated from many articles and forums, about hunting for script typewriters. I figured that I might as well share it, and that there is no reason why I should keep this to myself, because I only collected them from what others have written online.

Typewriters with script fonts are unicorns, they say.

Because they were manufactured not for practical office use, but for fancy personal correspondence, very few units were made, which makes them so collectible today.

So far, I’ve gathered these few hunting tips, from online articles and Reddit forums:

  • Standard typewriters wiith script fonts are rarer to find than portables with script fonts. 
  • A rare standard typewriter Royal 10 with half block, half script font— was in customized production till 1971)
  • Many of the script font typewriters were built toward the end of the typewriter era, from the late ‘70s to 1990 by the remaining typewriter companies, particularly the IBM models with the interchangeable ball.
  • Swiss-made Hermes (3000, Media 3) seems to top the list of the most sought after vintage manuals with script font
  • Another popular choice among collectors is the script typewriter debuted by Olivetti Lettera in 1963.
  • Other typewriter manufacturers that offered the script font were Olympia (SM3, SM7, SM8), Adler (Tippa, J4, J5), Royal (Safari, Sahara), Remington (Deluxe 5, Personal Riter), Smith-Corona (Classic 12, Sterling 5A, Galaxie Deluxe 10, Galaxie 11, Galaxie 12, Silent Super), Torpedo 18, Blickensderfer (with cylinder) and IBM (Selectric with typeball) 
  • Experienced typewriter collectors have a most uncanny sense in telling if a unit has a script font just by looking at a picture and noting the model and some details. In earlier units, typewriters that have the letter 1 key is a good clue that it is a script font typewriter. In later units, the absence of a ribbon selector is a good clue, though later units (late ‘60s onwards) offered script with units that had ribbon selectors.

Other noteworthy beautiful fonts that are collectors’ holy grails:

* Olivetti Graphika:  Cassandre typeface
* Royal Model P: Vogue

My little collection. Clockwise, from top: Olivetti Lettera 32, Sperry Rand Remington, Smith Corona Galaxie Deluxe, Adler Junior 10, Olympia Traveller Deluxe. Only the Olympia Traveller Deluxe S has a script font.

Press Mention

REVISIT CHILDHOOD DAYS
Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK), the country’s first and only organization of illustrators for children, launches a fresh collection of art pieces telling personal stories from each member’s past.

“INKwento: Stories from Childhood” is Ang INK’s 28th annual exhibition, which opened at the new Arts and Design Hall of the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, on 9 November.

Game Over, a story about huge plants with trunks full of eyes and snake-like roots, and My Lola’s Kitchen, which tells of a treasure-filled grandmother’s kitchen, are just two of the illustrated stories in this year’s collection. There’s also Newborn, about a baby bird hatching on a grade school playground and Luto-lutuan, about May and Gigi playing with clay pottery with their mom.

Ang INK members or Inkies used a wide range of media for their works on display including paper, pen and ink, watercolors, acrylic, colored pencils, markers and digital.
Opening in conjunction with the exhibit is a two-day series of activities including an art sale and artist’s talks given by Inkies.

Day One (9 November) featured the Inkie Pop-Up Sale, and “The Business of Illustration: Pricing, Contracts and Copyright,” a talk given by veteran Inkies Bru Sim-Nada, May Tobias Papa and Aneka Rodriguez. “Illustrators on Illustrators,” featuring six Inkies discussing their individual styles and experiences, took place on the same day.

The second day of the event (16 November) will feature a talk, “Empowering Young People Through Illustration,” given by five Inkies led by Abi Goy, and another by the creators of the storybook, Si Kian.

Ang INK has more than 70 members who are illustrators, graphic designers, painters, writers, teachers working in educational institutions, publishing companies, and design and advertising agencies.

Founded in 1991, Ang INK was the offshoot of a Children’s Book Illustration workshop sponsored by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People and the Goethe-Institute Manila conducted by German illustrator, Reinhard Michl.

Ang INK has more than 70 members who are illustrators, graphic designers, painters, writers, teachers working in educational institutions, publishing companies and design and advertising agencies.

For more information about Ang INK and INKwento: Stories from Childhood, visit http://www.facebook.com/AngINK.org/ or email hello@ang-ink.org.

inspiration: where does one find it?

Today I begin a series of posts, #behindthestories, where I will tell the stories behind my books. I do not get to talk much about the inspiration for my stories, but, nevertheless, I still think they ought to be shared, if only to encourage people to pursue their dream of writing stories because it is therapeutic and immensely fulfilling.

Writing is not easy. And not everybody gets to be commercially published, which still seems to be considered the legitimate measure of success of any writer. But a person aspiring to write has so many options available to them now. They can blog. They can self-publish online. Or by demand. And just like with any job, to be good at writing, you need to spend an inordinate time on it and train hard–by attending classes or workshops, by keeping a journal, and, perhaps, most important of all, by reading a lot–of stories, of how-to’s, of critical studies of writing. Also, prepare for heartaches. You might have to make several mistakes and live with rejections and disappointments along the way.

I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since I was 9 years old. 

By then, I thought I had read all the fairytale books in the grade school library–at least all the books the school allowed primary graders like me to borrow — and I suppose I was getting jaded; I thought that the stories all just seemed to be variations of a handful of stories. And this was what gave me an idea to write my own version of Cinderella.

Years later, at the UP Writers Workshop in Baguio I attended, I met a Filipino literary great, NVM Gonzalez, who was a panelist, and I incredibly got to spend a whole afternoon with him in Legato, a bookstore now long gone, along Session Road.

I bought all his books I could find in the bookshop, including one he said that was never released in the Philippines, and then I had them signed by him. I couldn’t find any of them now, save for one that was published by The Bookmark. I’ve moved houses several times since, and they might be in my parents’ house.

We talked about his books and about writing. I told him that I was planning to quit advertising to take up graduate studies in Creative Writing (it never happened). He advised me to take Comparative Literature instead. I asked him a lot of slam-book type questions, mostly because i was embarassed to admit to him that I had never seriously read his works apart from the stories we were required to read in school, “A Warm Hand” and “Bread of Salt”, and even then I couldn’t even say I really got them.

But when I finally learned the story behind “Bread of Salt”–when he was a teenager he played the violin with a band hired by suitors to serenade their ladyloves, and with his very first earnings he bought a bag of pan de sal (bread of salt) and to use a typewriter he walked for a couple of kilometers to town, — it wakened something in me, and it was as if he had unlocked a door to a supply-room of endless stories for me. Your writing should be informed, he said, by all you had ever experienced and learned up to the point that you are writing a story. 

From that day, I found story ideas everywhere. I took down notes from the stories of his childhood my dad loved to tell, I recalled my own reminiscences of childhood and recounted them in my journal, I encouraged my mom to recall her own childhood so that maybe we could collaborate on a picture book. I filled notebooks and digital storage devices with stories.

But, getting down to craft stories out of these ideas is an altogether different story on its own.

A description must be narrative, must contain truth–and, most important of all, must be illustrative.

“I cannot imagine composition existing in a series of blocks, nor conceive, in any novel worth discussing at all, of a passage of description that is not in its intention narrative, a passage of dialogue that is not in its intention descriptive, a touch of truth of any sort that does not partake of the nature of incident, and an incident that derives its interest from any other source than the general and only source of the success of a work of art-that of being illustrative.”

Henry James, from “The Art of Fiction”

images.jpeg-10

There Once Was a Boy Who Had a Dream

Maybe now I can write about it. I got a special, advanced copy early October from the author himself.

I had known Jose Miguel “Jomike” Tejido since 1999 when he joined the group Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan. He was still in college then, taking up Architecture at UST, but he had already been publishing his illustrations for children for years before that, in the Junior Inquirer supplement of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

He is, perhaps, currently the most prolific author of children’s books for Filipino children, publishing both as writer and illustrator. He has recently expanded his audience reach to overseas, with his projects with US children’s book publishers. His body of work, both in number and quality, is quite impressive, for somebody largely self-taught, first as an illustrator, then as a writer. I had the pleasure of previewing Jomike’s early attempts as a writer, when once he emailed me, asking me to do a critique on his very first short story for children. He was the most eager, attentive and diligent student, as we carried on a crash correspondence course on writing for children over a few weeks in 2002. Not too surprisingly, the very first book he wrote and illustrated, the delightful Dindo Pundido, published by Adarna House, became a best seller, and 17 years later, it is still in print, and is now considered among classics of Filipino children’s literature.

By the time he consulted me for his next writing project,  “Ang Pambihirang Sombrero”, I was even more impressed by how he’d improve his writing. His story had qualified him for the Barlaya Writers’ Workshop, a workshop for writers. His passion and diligence on improving his writing skills paid off; his story was selected on its own merits.

Over the years, I had closely witnessed Jomike grow amazingly both as writer and illustrator, from a college kid who had first shyly asked for advice in an email. He has generously paid it forward since, by sharing his gifts and mentoring both children and adults in writing and illustrating workshops and in festival panel discussions both here and abroad.

This year, a dream of his came true, as he launched his book “There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Book” in Books of Wonder in NYC, published by Jimmy Patterson Books no less.  The book is a delightful love letter to fairytales and picture books. With it, Jomike’s story as a writer-illustrator comes full circle. The  student is now a mentor himself, to young, aspiring writers and illustrators. The journey, however, wasn’t without its share of rejections and setbacks, as Jomike himself will attest — but the important lesson perhaps to be learned here is to persevere: believe in your dream, and never stop figuring out how to make it happen.

Congratulations, Jomike!

If I Stay(ed)…

 

I was going to be late for Jomike Tejido’s talk.

What a dilemma! I was torn between staying at the conference hall where Gayle Forman’s talk was scheduled because I really really wanted to hear her talk (but more than 30 minutes had already gone, and it still hadn’t started) and running down the Expo Centre to the Literature Forum to watch Jomike Tejido’s panel discussion. It was a no-brainer. I decided to support my friend and kabayan, of course. I collected my bags of books and got up, silently weeping inside.

As I half-ran and half-walked to the end of the corridor, I saw four figures silhouetted against the brightness of the Expo hallway walking fast toward me. I stepped out of the way to let them pass.

Oh no, it’s Gayle. I recognized her from her author’s photo in her books.

“May!” the lovely Qurrat, head coordinator for SCRF 2017, today garbed in a golden-hued hijab, stopped me. She clasped her hands over her chest as she smiled widely, eyes twinkling, “You will join us, right?” And before I could open my mouth, Qurrat had already turned to Gayle Forman, who’d likewise stopped walking. “Gayle, I’d like you to meet May. She is an author from the Phillippines. May, this is Miss Gayle Forman. She’d just arrived from the US.”
Was dumbstruck. My heart stopped as Gayle held out her hand. “Pleased to meet you,” Gayle smiled warmly.

“Likewise,” I thought I said, but my mouth felt too dry. “Yes, of course, I am staying,” I said. Was going to mumble that I was pleased to meet Gayle Forman too, but before I could say anything, their little party had already resumed walking fast toward the room that I had just left.

So I went back to the room, trailing them. Gayle was very generous with her writing tips and she shared the stories behind her novels and their characters.

What I learned from her talk:

When you write a novel, Gayle said, you’re either a pantser or a plotter. If you are a pantser, you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” kind of writer. You are the opposite if you are a plotter, because you want to plan everything carefully.

“If I Stay” was inspired by true events. She lost a friend in a tragic accident which killed her friend’s whole family as well.

The characters in her novels are inspired by real people around her. Some of her characters, like Mia, also have aspects of herself in them.

When the talk was over, I asked her to sign my book. She not only signed it, but she asked me when I flew in, when my session was, if I had already done my round of school visits, etc. We chatted quite a bit. I really held up the line. But I took my time. I will only get to do this once, after all.

“Can I take a selfie with you?” I asked.
“Of course,” she smiled warmly.
And I took our pic and I showed it to her.
“Oh, let’s do another one. A crazy-faced one,” she laughs.
Click.
“Oh we must hug!” she said. “See you around!”

April 23, 2017

Memories of childhood and old toys

 

Did you also play with clay pot  and stove cook sets when you were a child, like me and my sister Gigi? We owned lots. And probably as many sets we broke were the times Mommy and Grandma Gregoria bought us these toys. The clay pot sets sold back in the days I was still a child were better made. They really looked like miniature clay pots and stoves.  The pot lids were always just the right size, and the stoves were well-shaped and not deformed, unlike the ones they make now–which are usually distorted and sloppily made. Sometimes, the lids are not even proportionate to the pots they cover. Am not sure if the paint they used back then were lead-free, but I loved the bright red color of the pots which were decorated with tiny white flowers and leaves. We cooked rice, adobo, sinigang, and pakbet so many times in those tiny pots–and we ate what we cooked! Thankfully, my sister and I survived to adulthood, and whatever toxins we ingested with the food we cooked in our toy pots had not seemed to have caused any permanent damage to our brains. The best part was Mommy always played with us. She patiently kindled the fire to light up the charcoal bricks. Gigi and I stirred the stew, added water, or lifted the lid when the sauce was boiling. No other game gave me hours of fun as much as our play kitchen did.  If we happened to play it in the province during our visits to our grandparents, Daddy even fashioned us tents out of blankets tied to chairs, under the generous shade of the ancient caimito tree. We laid out a straw mat where we can nap or lay down while reading our comics. Mommy even sat with us inside our tent! We arranged pillows inside our makeshift tent and pretended they were sofas.

In this album you will find the clay toy cookware I’ve collected over the years. It is perhaps an attempt to recapture my happy memories of childhood. One set was given to me as gift. I’ve used some of these cook sets  as props in my storytelling sessions.  In fact one of these sets was the one I used in my very first storytelling of “Araw sa Palengke” when we launched in in 2008. I got it from the Kamuning Market.

 

I have a dream job. and it really all started with a dream.

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