Friday, December 31, 2010

'I Like Doing It Because All of You Are Here'

"It" being preparing our Christmas Eve meal in Baguio and "you" being his three family members scattered in the big lowland metropolis. He chose the stoneware, lined up a menu for the health-conscious (that should be me) and the one who could use an extra inch on her waistline (our youngest child Ida). And so we caught the cook of the moment on our digicam preparing a rich person's repast of Canadian salmon sashimi, a salad of Romaine lettuce, walnuts and grapes with a dressing of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, tenderloin coins and my contribution, lumpy mashed potatoes. Whenever I'd get something from the kitchen, he shooed me off with his admonition, "Too many cooks!" He also prepared Christmas Day breakfast and lunch. In a rare moment of revealing the vulnerable side of this hard-nosed newsman, he later said quietly, "I like doing it because all of you are here."

Master chef of Green Valley Village, Baguio, gets some assist from eldest daughter Kimi

Pa ra pa pam pam: Spirit of Christmas Past

Were it not for this compulsive habit of jotting down all sorts of stuff happening in my life, I wouldn't be able to recall in detail how I spent the Christmas season of 10 years ago. Recently, I leafed through old journals, curious about who peopled that season. The office I used to work for has folded up since then, but the ties with co-workers remain. A yearly tradition of familial gathering has been cut since most relatives have been swept away by the diaspora, but thanks to Facebook and email, we manage to keep in touch. As for this big little drummer girl, she continues to rapapampam wherever, whenever. To all, a gladsome season of giving.

Dec. 27, 2000
Christmas this year went by so fast. Here's what I remember--a kare-kare lunch prepared by Mom followed by Cousin Eileen calling us on the phone to rally us to go to the Malumanay reunion in Teachers' Village. By that time, Mom and my siblings were tired so only Dennis and I went. Bought Magnolia ice cream at Eunilaine on the way there. Had soup, apple pie a la mode, ensaymada, kutsinta and fruit salad--all the available desserts.

Cousin Rose and her children Yonni and Regina were there apart from Uncle Esting's children, Eileen, Minnie and Jimi, and Tongpet. It was a quiet reunion, the guys finishing the bottle of red wine Dennis  brought. Eileen was pleased with the talc powder I gave her. It's called "Love Life." On their big TV screen, we watched the movies "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and part of "Deep End of the Ocean." Handed two P50 bills to Manang Tinay as Christmas tokens.

Back home, I enjoined Kimi and Ida to hear the 5 p.m. mass with Suzy. They had gone to Rockwell Plant and on finding it closed, proceeded to Megamall. Those mall rats! Pinky brought their mini pinscher Osang whom I took for a walk and fed Honey Stars cereals. She liked being brought to the garden where she sniffed at the grass and the trunks of trees.

After work Dec. 26, Cyn, Al, Amadis and I took a cab to Whistlestop to knock off a few bottles of beer. Al, our office accountant, never pays for his drinks. Cyn is always his benefactor. He announced that we would not receive our yearend salaries because we have no collection from clients. This worried me because there are bills to pay, thank-you presents to give. Maribel, our office aide, described Christmas at the office as tuyo (dry).

Dec. 31, 2001
Visited the Araos family to give them a box of Cunanan ensaymadas. They've set up three aquariums filled with colorful fish, Julian's new hobby. Melen wore a wig, but it wasn't that noticeable. She looked happy and relaxed. They fed us, Kimi, Ida and the office driver I hired, Mang Nany, fabada, their homemade pork and beans, with Kamuning Bakery's famous pan de sal and a garlicky herb butter spread. Ida went for an ensaymada.

Jerry prodded the girls to open their presents: shoulder bags that he had designed. These were made from industrial wastes, and some urban poor folk executed them for him. From Melen I received a handpainted box with three beautiful handkerchiefs inside.

Jerry gave us his interpretation of the Dec. 30 bombing. He thinks it may be the handiwork of some generals so Erap can ask for emergency powers, dissolve the impeachment proceedings and arrest activists and businessmen who've been critical of him. It may be time to stock up on rice, canned goods and water.

From UP we motored to Ayala Alabang to spend New Year's Eve with my brother-in-law Willie and his family. I tried to nap in the guest house while the children played billiards or watched TV. We went to the Town Center, niece Claudine guiding us to the different shops. I bought a pack of my favorite chan pui mui from the Achiban store. Rolly found and bought two history books at National Bookstore, then we went for fraps at Starbucks. Saw my other niece Marie Server King, her husband and their friends. At Powerbooks I found some A.S. Byatt titles which I kept in mind to buy in the future. From Tower Records, I was able to buy a CD of "Miss Saigon" for my girls.

Back on Apitong street, carolers were waiting. They were accompanied by Sr. Sol Perpiñan who gave me the women's background. They sang Christmas and jubilee songs after which sis-in-law Chingbee served them noodles and sandwiches. The kitchen was a beehive of activity. At 10 we went to the village church, it golden retablo dazzling the eyes. The church was full; only Claudine found a seat. Ida felt unwell, and I brought her out for some air.

Back at the house a candlelit dinner was waiting: steak wrapped in bacon, baked mussels, spicy soup, macaroni salad. Westin Plaza prepared a special ham, but I was too full to try it. I allowed myself a slice of Marks and Spencer fruitcake, the best I've tasted this season.

"Blue Streaks," acrylic on paper canvas, 2009.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Memory Retrieved

The year 2010 is fading. As I begin to count the blessings of this year (and they are plenty), I am simultaneously preparing a to-do list for the new decade. A resolution that is forgotten year in, year out in the effort to meet the level of each day's need is to stop and be still. And in the stillness compose a verse or what seems to look like one.  Here is a verse, one of a small fistful I did this year, a memory retrieved of a child now fully grown.

Fourth-Generation Brookside Baby

For Kimi whom I named Katha Mayumi

she moved into my lola's house
precisely on her seventh birthday
ready to begin first grade
in a new city.

free of anxiety
she strode to school day out day in
in jeans & t-shirt
standing out at flag ceremony
because all other girl children
came in standard white blouse
& red pleated skirt.
she thought it not unusual
when these same girls
yelled "katha!"
with hints of panic
in their voices
when bullies barged
into their space.

she dealt with them
by just turning up
in trademark scruffy jeans
& well-worn tee

my guess is the boys
couldn't figure out
what she was
in their rightful scheme of things.

eventually she shed off the tomboy stance
explored the world of dolls,
shoved the line of barbies on her kid sister's side
& gave her family of trolls
the affection they deserve,
graduating them with honors
atop the upright piano.

she commenced a life beyond
her adopted city,
adapting to wearying commutes,
shrugging off trolls in the workplace
as easily as the bullies
who have no place
in her scheme of things.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Facing Down the Beast of Depression

With upbeat tunes like “Feels So Good” and “What a Wonderful World” played at the launch of Margarita Go-Singco Holmes’ Down to 1: Depression Stories, a guest wondered aloud if the condition discussed in the book is being trivialized.

Perhaps, that is the program’s point: the beast called depression can be understood and licked. What comes after is a realization that life can be given another chance.

Holmes, a clinical psychologist who has been identified with bestsellers on Filipino sexuality, summed up the condition, with help from her colleagues at the University of the Philippines psychology department, in this spoofy song to the tune of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicion”:

“Every time I wake up, I wonder what my life is good for / Every time I wake up, I wonder why there isn’t more / Why should this be so painful to me, the ex life of the party / Starting to think ‘Oh, what’s the use?’ Am I really hopeless and what’s more, just crazy / Depression torments my heart / Depression tears me apart / Depression, what can I do?”

Karina Bolasco  of Anvil Publishing, the book’s publisher, said it took them 10 years  to put together  Down to 1 as they wanted to show that  far from being “a happy smiling, singing people,” many Filipinos suffer from clinical depression.

But, she added, these Filipinos are “conveniently dismissed as genetically crazy. Have you ever noticed how parents always try to trace the family origins of anybody a son or daughter is likely to marry? First, the place of origin to establish regional traits, then the family of origin, to make sure walang lahing sira-ulo (there is no history of insanity).”

The title refers to a depressed person’s severe feelings of aloneness, even of abandonment–that no friend, partner or any other being could possibly understand what he or she is going through. Three of the 10 storytellers in the book went onstage to describe depression as a “condition too painful to bring on the table.” It is one where one feels “faith vanishing in the desert” and “looking into the abyss and knowing you don’t want to go there.”

Called the FCD 10 (formerly or currently depressed), psychology professor Kay Añonuevo, bankers Roman Azanza and Jeremy Baer, film director Peque Gallaga, writers Alya Honasan and Babeth Lolarga, restaurateur Nina Poblador, TV director Lore Reyes, author Mike Santos and fashion designer Patis Tesoro openly and bravely reveal what it’s like to be, or to have been, depressed.

Some detail their suicide attempts, their medication, what helped and what didn’t in getting them out of the condition that is beyond what Bolasco called “the blues that affect most people in the course of normal life.”

Holmes, who acknowledges suffering from the condition periodically, guides the timorous reader looking for help through a simple test. The score can be interpreted to find out if one is within the mild or severe clinical range of depression.

In her forthright manner, she demolishes commonly held beliefs and myths about suicide. To the quasi myth that “no one but God decides when your time is up ,” she writes, “This is claptrap because many don’t believe in God, even more don’t believe in a God that insists one suffers needlessly.”

Best is her definition of depression: a thief that “takes away your joy, sense of wonder, the taste of your favorite food, even the smell of freshly washed hair…Most painfully, depressions steal you away from yourself. For many, one of the worst things they fear is whether their real selves will ever come back.”

The FCD 10′s first-person tales of surviving depression resonate long after one has put down the book.  Añonuevo states with the force of truth: “While sadness is ordinary, not wanting to live isn’t!”

With admirable candor, the British Baer, Holmes’s husband, talks about the anti-depressant Prozac, how it reduced his libido (down to one from a high of making love 52 times a week) and how he and his doctor arrived at a combination of medications that is satisfactory to him.

Still on the subject of medication, Honasan musters her strength when she hears of people calling her “unstable” because she was on Prozac. She writes, “I don’t hang around them anymore. Experiences like this can teach you a lot about who you should keep in your life.”

Tesoro writes candidly about her addiction to Valium to control her rages and how she overcame it. “I got worse and worse, but when I wanted to throw that pair of scissors, not just to vent but hoping it might hit its mark, I stopped all my medication cold turkey.” Today, if she takes medication, she only has half a pill and has calmed herself through gardening and walking the land.

If anything, Down to 1 assures the suffering that they are not alone.

Originally published by VERA Files
Photo of Dr. Holmes by Anna Leah Sarabia