Sunday, July 22, 2012

That Time I Went to Salinas

I spent last Saturday in Salinas for "A Conversation of Filipino Writers: Past and Present," an event organized by the now-legendary writer and local educator Oscar Penñaranda (so dapper in his barong Tagalog!). It was held in conjunction with the exhibit "Filipino Voices: Past and Present," which is on display at the National Steinbeck Center through this weekend, I believe. If you miss it, don't worry: this Fall it will be moving to the War Memorial Building in San Francisco. Here's a write-up from the San Francisco Chronicle. Many good folks, including the wonderful Jean Vengua, put a ton of work into this project and it shows and shows and shows.

I had been wanting to see the exhibit, but Salinas is a 90-minute drive and I'm a whiner so I needed a bit of a push. Said push came in the form of an invitation to participate on the morning panel, which was going to be a discussion about pre-1965 Filipino American writers with the central question being: Hey, why is Bulosan the only writer from that era that anyone ever talks about?

I felt a little weird about the invite, mostly because I couldn't figure out why I was invited to be on the panel. First of all, I'm not an academic or an educator and second, I'm not an academic or an educator. So I let the message languish in my inbox until one morning I woke up and thought why not? As in why not venture out of my comfort zone? Why not state my thoughts and opinions about pre-1965 Filipino writers? Why not take a 90-minute drive to Salinas? Why not what the hell oh la di da di da.

I immediately plunged myself into Carlos Bulosan, Bienvenido Santos (my favorite), NVM Gonzales, Wilfred Nolledo, Jose Garcia Villa, and—on the off-chance that I might be able to slip them in to the conversation somehow—Paz Latorena and Estrella Alfon. So this was unspeakably enjoyable to me, all this time spent reading. As it turns out, I did get to say a little about each of these writers: yay! As for the central question of why Carlos Bulosan seems to garner all the acknowledgements and name recognition, I just spoke my mind:

1) people are interested in his writing and his life, what with the inches-thick FBI file, his blacklisting as a Communist, and his work in the multi-ethnnic labor movement.

2) and then his end was distressingly sad: he died in Seattle from malnutrition and tuberculosis.

3) unlike some of the other writers, who came to the United States as pensionados (students) and went on to study at some of this country's most prestigious universities, Bulosan arrived here as a worker who then hobbled together an alternative education for himself, reading and studying widely on his own. I'm impressed by this; this sticks with me.

4) in my opinion, he's the least talented of this group of writers, but he can be engaged with on so many different levels, which is why he maintains his iconic standing.

The other folks on the pre-1965 panel were my buddy multi-genre writer Tony Robles, poet Lou Syquia, and novelist/playwright Cecilia Gaerlan.

Here's a blurry photo taken at the end of the day. With me are a few of the hardworking SFSU students (so young, so young...) who organized much of the goings-on. They were an enterprising bunch, and I suspect we'll see and hear much from them in a few years! Also pictured is the ever-delightful Marianne Villanueva, who I hadn't seen in so very long:

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Pivot Left!

If you don't mind, I'm just going to ignore the fact that I've been absent from this space for...oh, a very long time.

{  pivot left !  }

The twinkers are wrapping up their first year of middle school, and I can't lasso all the thoughts pinging around my head. When September started, they were just goofy little nutjob kids. And now here we are in June and, yes, they are mostly still goofy little nutjob kids, but more and more I catch sight of the women they're going to become. And the kind of women they are going to become are the kind of women WHO KICK ASS. They are all about words that begin with "s." They are super studious, social, and studly. I will give you pictorial evidence of the stud-ness:

Why is that silly girl chasing Risa! She will NEVER catch her:

Why would anyone hit a grounder directly to Vida? Vida will scoop it up, whip it to first base, and even though the batter will run with all her might, she will be OUT. So out:

I'm just guessing, but I think it's probably not too easy to be the twins' little sister. In fact, if I were their little sister I would spend most of my waking hours rolling my eyes and making faces whenever they speak. Lea is much nicer than I am, though, so rather than suffocate under the weight of their twin-ness and "s" words, she just makes her own way. She sings and dances and makes people laugh, kind of like a miniature Carol Burnett. When we were in New York City this past April, she plopped herself down in front of the Mad Hatter and proceeded to have a lengthy and quite serious conversation with him. I didn't listen in; some things are private.

The truth is that this has been a triple X crazy year. The truth is that it's only going to get crazier. And the truth is that these three girls are what keep me going.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Post In Which I Describe My Bummer of a Dream

I'm in the madly spinning vortex of life change. Also, I appear to be a fan of hyperbole. But if you've been with me this long, you already knew that.

I'm at turns bewildered, empowered, super tired, and vaguely elated. Because it takes me longer than the average person (I think) to process this type of life adjustment, it's a challenge to blog about it. But guess what? It's March Madness, and I'm willing to give it the old college try. Though I risk turning you immediately away from this post, I am forced to begin with a line that instantly kills any interest I might have in a conversation: So...I had this dream.

Still with me?

Said dream occurred about two years ago, and it's the only one in my life from which I awoke in a fit of uncontrollable weeping. Simply put, I was in a number of scenarios in which I believed I was fully participating. There was a ride in a horse carriage, a party at which much photograph-taking occurred, dinners at restaurants, etc. A jolly good time, if you will. But eventually I realized, a la Bruce Willis in that whatever-it-was-called-movie, that I was not at all participating in these scenarios because I was...cue spooky music...dead. Then suddenly I was standing in a windy spot somewhere with my father, who was able to see the barely-there me, the bit of me still left. I gave him a hug. "I have to go," I said. And he said, "I know."

And then I woke up, as noted, weeping and attempting to recount the dream to my spousal unit (I'm sure I was fairly incoherent). I am not one to invest an inordinate amount of time deciphering dreams, but this one was a clear call-to-arms. A year later, I finally understood that my childhood, which had lasted 41 years (41 years! how lucky am I?), had come to an end.

So now here I am a grown-ass woman with grown-ass responsibilities that I'm doing my very best to meet. I won't go into details because I want to protect the privacy of others, but I will say that I think I'm doing good. I was a good kid, after all. And good kids turn into good grown-ups.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

At the Dialysis Center

I have a new routine. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning I roll myself out of bed quietly at 5:45, tip-toe into the den where I get dressed in the sweats I have left warming near the heater, cross the hall into the kitchen (avoiding the squeaky spot on the floor), retrieve a tin that I have packed with a little fruit and some graham crackers the night before, grab my purse and my keys, and drive five minutes down El Camino to pick up my Dad. Then I take him to the dialysis center, hand him his tin of fruit and graham crackers, drive back home, and crawl back into bed for an hour.

At 9:30, I go back to pick him up. The majority of dialysis technicians at the center are Filipino, and they are unfailingly pleasant and efficient. They call my dad "Tatay" or just "Tay," and they tug his ponytail and say, "You're so Jeproks, Tay!" They tell him to "listen to your daughter," which cracks both of us up.

There are so many stories waiting in that center. The stoic older gentleman in the khakis and the alpine sweater, who never says anything (I helped him once open his can of Ensure, though, and he said, "Oh, thank you very much."); the thin young man from Mexico, whose ride is never on time to pick him up; the wizened guy in the woolen cap who I swear to god cruises me every time I'm there; the young woman who I hope is on the waiting list for a transplant; the man without legs, the woman with no teeth and the one in the blonde wig, the guy who goes on and on about politics even though no one is listening.

So many stories. Maybe I'll tell them one day.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Adventures in Zen Gardening

Not that I'm doing any Zen gardening, mind you. I refer simply to the fact that last week I taught some 4th graders an art lesson about Japanese Zen gardens. This required much rooting around for supplies. First on the list: shoebox tops to serve as garden containers. Where the heck, thought I, am I going to find 30 shoebox tops? I considered emailing the parents and asking them each to send their child to school with one. I thought about randomly raiding my friends' homes. I thought wistfully of all the box tops we had broken down and sent out with the recycling right after the holiday. And, finally (my brilliance takes time, you see), I thought: a shoe store!

So I headed over to a shoe store that shall not be named. At the door I was greeted by a young woman with one of those Madonna headset things (evidently, selling shoes today requires more...communication?...than it used to). "Hello," she said. "Do you need help?"

"Yes. My daughter's class is working on a project, and they need shoebox tops."

She stared at me with nary a glint of oh-I-get-it in her eyes. I explained further: "So I thought I'd come here and ask. Because this is a shoe store. Do you have any shoebox tops?"

"," she said, not quite sure of herself. "We don't have any of those."

"Really? 'Cuz this is a 2-story shoe store, so I'm thinking you probably have some shoebox tops."

She looked around. "Well, let me ask someone..."

I left her without saying farewell. I found a manager, who told me to come back at closing time, and she'd give me everything they had. Thank you, manager lady!

Next on the supply list: river stones. Easy.

And then: moss. No problem.

Moving on: twigs, acorns, pebbles. Done!

And, finally: sand. Sand which would be placed in a nice layer at the bottom of the shoebox top, and then raked with a fork into pleasing lines and curves and whatnot. I went to the craft store. They were selling 3/4 lb. bags of sand for $3.49. I figured I needed about 10 lbs. I left the craft store and walked into...KMart. I've never been to KMart before; I will never go to KMart again. And, besides, they did not have sand.

I went to Home Depot. Smallest bag of sand: 60 pounds. They sent me on a semi-goose chase to the lumber department, where a nice man named Jamar whispered, "Have you tried Orchard Supply Hardware?"

I called Orchard Supply Hardware. "Do you have small bags of sand?" I asked. "A ten pound bag, let's say?"

"Yes, we do."

"You're sure?"

"Yes, ma'am, I'm sure."

Great! I drove to Orchard Supply Hardware, where I accosted the first salesperson I saw. "I need a ten pound bag of sand, please."

Again with the blank stare. "I don't think we have anything that small."

"I just called. The lady on the phone said you definitely have 10 pound bags of sand."

We walked over to some sort of display with various tickets depicting various bags of sand. "You just want, what, regular sand?"

"I guess. Like the kind of sand that goes in a sandbox."

He stared at the display. "Smallest bag is 50 pounds."

I sighed. "Okay. Can I buy the 50 pound bag, take what I need, and leave the rest here?"

"No. We wouldn't be able to do anything with that."

I looked dramatically around the store. "You mean there's absolutely nothing you can do with some sand in this HOME AND GARDEN store?"

His loathing was thinly disguised. "No. We would just throw it away."

"You would throw the sand away?"

"Yes. Uh-huh."

It was at this moment that I thought of the headset-wearing young woman at the 2-story shoe store. I hoped with all my heart that these two people would never meet, never fall in love, and never procreate.

So, anyways: I bought a 50 pound bag of sand. And do you know how much it cost? $4.99! I was grateful for one thing only: that I hadn't purchased 10 bags at $3.49/each at the craft store.

Here's what the kids made:


In other news...just yesterday I received a text from the taxi driver who took me back and forth from the airport in New York sixteen months ago. Here's what it said:

Hello Veronica! Happy New Year from crazy New York. May Almighty God Bless u and ur families with Health, Peace, Happiness and lot of money. Tarek, ur Egyptian Taxi Driver.

Happy new year, Tarek! And happy new year to all of you, too!