Ghost Writing

The first time I wrote a speech for someone else, I was in the audience to listen to it being delivered. I heard both laughter and silence from a crowd that listened, I anticipated pauses in-between applause for someone who was delivering my speech. It felt strange. It was almost like a part of me was being taken away, but at the same time being freely given without complaint.

By-lines are important to writers. The process of writing is the most difficult, so when we finally reach the end, and words are all that remain from the grueling hours spent wrestling with the right ones to fill an empty page, stamping our name on it is the prize. Nothing short of claiming what is rightfully ours. Copyright. Whether or not it is agreeable to others remains to be seen. But you take the credit or the blame for the outcome, because everyone knows it is yours.

So, when I ghost-write, I give up all claim to my hard work.  I stay anonymous for as long as my identity is not revealed, and the prerogative to reveal it does not reside in me. Does it make me less of a writer, to write something no one will ever know I did?

That writers are often lonesome, introspective people who prefer to stay in one corner of a forgotten world while they type in seclusion is mostly true. That’s how we get our work done. When I type away, I resent anyone looking over my shoulder to see what I am doing until the last line has been dotted. It can be a very selfish act. The more we write words, the more we keep them as ours. The moment the by-line is omitted, purposefully, it is a humbling experience. It allows the solitary writer to give.

The bane and the boon of ghost writing. You did well, BUT no one will ever know. You did well, AND no one will ever know.

ghost writing copy




The 2013 Hot Air Balloon Festival at Clark just culminated. We did not go this year, but seeing photos of friends who attended the event reminded me of our experience two years ago. It’s specially striking now that we’re moving soon. Sort of feels like floating up in one of those balloons. This year there was a giant sun. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to ride a rising sun?

What I wrote in 2011:

Did you know that a hot air balloon aviator cannot steer the balloon but can only move it up or down and go where the wind blows? I always thought there was some sort of mechanism that will allow you to direct it as you please. Maybe I watch too many Disney/Pixar movies.  I have to admit I was horrified! Having no power to make it go left or right (or make it stop in midair – “I love the view…can we just float here forever???”), for me, is a terrifying idea. And that is because I’m a control freak. I want to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. Which is why I love to drive, to run, will never go sky diving or bungee jumping, and am still afraid of the dark.

What if the wind blows them towards the sea? What if they go to some uncharted territory of rocky cliffs and deep ravines? What if a flock of balloon-popping birds come and start pecking, and you can turn neither left nor right? (Okay, maybe not the balloon-popping birds…)

To be brave enough to go where the wind blows is astonishing. To know when to soar high and when exactly to lower yourself to almost touch the ground is a gift. To land without falling out of your basket is, well, taught in aviation school, I suppose.  And the chasers, that’s another thing altogether. Going after something freely drifting until it’s within reach is what they literally do.

So, maybe that’s why I didn’t mind waking up at 4 am even without my necessary-to-keep-me-nice-cup-of-coffee to see balloons. Not just balloons – people NOT steering balloons and going where the wind blows. A pair of eyes among a thousand pair of eyes following these balloons with people NOT steering balloons. You see, I can’t get over it.

So Easy

It’s refreshing to see kids play.

They remind you of days when a lot of extraneous things didn’t matter – gender, color, appearances, income, religion. If you wanted to ride the seesaw, someone will always sit opposite you to lift you up, and enjoy it, too, no matter if he or she didn’t know you. You’d do the same for the little stranger whom you’ll start calling your friend by the time you’re exchanging “WATCH ME!”s at the monkey bar.

Why can’t it be that easy again? No judgments, no preconceived notions, no hesitations.

You take turns at the swing, pushing each other up to try to reach the same blue sky. You think the cloud looks like ice cream while the other thinks it’s a goat – metamorphosing through different eyes – still everyone agrees it can be both an ice cream AND a goat, or a goat eating ice cream, or ice cream from a goat. Does it really matter? Tomorrow, it will be a white hippo rowing a boat.

You wish you didn’t have to wish for it to be that easy. You wish you could go down that slide again not minding the dirt on your pant seat, because everyone who slides down after you ends up with the same dirt on the very same spot.

You wave goodbye with grimy hands not certain you’ll see them again, but knowing if you ever do, you’ll definitely recognize them. At five, it’s easy.


A Celebration of Identity and Being “Far From the Tree”

I saw a touching video about an autistic boy who used to be part of a high school basketball team as a waterboy, but because of his devotion to the team and his love of the sport, he was given a jersey by the coach and allowed to play during the second half of the game. Everyone cheered when he entered the court, but what was most surprising to all was that he was able to score 3-point shots six times! The video ended by saying this boy knew he was different, but didn’t realize he would be THAT different.

A few months ago, I watched a game of basketball among teenage children of Independent Living and Learning Center in Mandaluyong where my eldest son studies. It was one of several games at their Friendship Cup for special children last year. I remember having sent a text message to my brother who plays basketball as a hobby that that particular game was a thrill to watch. It was funny how no matter which team scored, the audience cheered. The same people cheered for both sides. How strange is that? Maybe not strange at all.

It tugs at the heartstrings when individuals we least expect to perform go beyond their limitations. It becomes a communal triumph for everyone who has had a hand in making these types of accomplishments possible. The cheers reflect not only a celebration of victory but a breaking away from stereotypes and expectations, a kind of jeer, even, against the many faces of prejudice that prevent these different individuals from ever being like the rest of us. But is that what we really want them to be – like the rest of us?

In the book, Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, the author speaks of illness vs. identity and how difficult it sometimes is to distinguish one from the other, how there is actually a thin line differentiating the two, but how they both are, at the same time, so distinct from one another. “We often use illness to disparage a way of being, and identity to validate the same way of being. This is a false dichotomy. In physics, the Copenhagen interpretation defines energy/matter as behaving sometimes like a wave and sometimes like a particle, which suggests that it is both, and posits that it is our human limitation to be unable to see both at the same time…Many conditions are both illness and identity, but we can see one only when we obscure the other,” Solomon says.

As a parent, I have a natural tendency to look for my own characteristics passed on to my children. Needless to say, as soon as a baby  is born, there is an attempt by each parent to outdo the other in the number of physical attributes that point to a semblance of themselves. When your child turns out to be more different than you can ever imagine, isn’t the first question – WHY? Why is he different? Almost an affront to our being, to our family history, we try to make sense of the oddity like it was something that can be clearly understood once named, and once named, like it was an illness that can be cured or SHOULD be cured.

In the same book, Solomon tells a story about Deborah Kent, a congenitally blind woman who was taken aback by her husband’s strong desire for their newborn to be seeing. In Kent’s essay published in 2000, she wrote, “I didn’t long for sight any more than I yearned for a pair of wings. Blindness presented occasional complications, but it seldom kept me from anything I wanted to do… If he could accept blindness in me, why would it be devastating to him, even for a moment, if our child were blind as well?”

I would probably never quite fathom how it is for a blind woman to never have any knowledge of sight and be content without it, just as her seeing husband could accept her but not quite understand how she can NOT wish for her child to see. But that is because we can see, and that ability taken away, is a frightful thing. Not to those who never had it in the first place.

Deborah Kent was born blind. My child was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. They may be two different things that require their own ways of coping with a society that presumes sight and timely developmental milestones, but they are similar in that we sometimes look for a cure instead of working towards acceptance.

My son is turning 15. He has the cognitive age of an eight-year old. He goes to a pre-vocational school where he does woodwork, crafts, practical life skills like buying and selling, plays sports occasionally, sings and dances which he particularly likes. He goes to speech therapy every week. He wears a hearing aid which he so vehemently detests. He hasn’t been wearing it for a while now. Years back I placed him in a mainstream program with the thought that just maybe he will be able to do what the rest of his classmates can do, maybe after some time the difference will be negligible. At some point, I realized he will always be different. He knows it, his friends know it, and soon enough I came to know it.There should be no shame nor a sense of failure in finding a place where your child will thrive, whether it be a regular school, a special school or a homeschool program. It does not make him worse not to be like the rest. In fact, in his pre-vocational school, my son is still not like everyone else. Neither are any of his classmates. Even in sameness, differences exist. Illness or identity?

It can be exhausting. Trying to make my son add two-digit numbers, count money, tell the time, read sentences, understand the parts of a plant, learn the history of our country are things he can probably breeze through if he weren’t born with CdLS. He would probably be playing soccer with his brother, shooting hoops with his uncle, or diving with me and his dad. But he doesn’t like staying under the sun too long, he’s not very fond of ball games, and he easily gets chills in the water. That’s him, not his condition. He likes to sing and dance. Those, he does. Well.

I can imagine how it must be for those other parents of children who have it harder than my son does. Some of the kids in his school can barely feed themselves, others utter sounds incomprehensible they are seldom understood. Intervention provides opportunities for them to communicate better, to do self-help skills, and sometimes it seems like THEY are doing us a favor, to make it easier for us to understand them. Solomon says, “There is no contradiction between loving someone and feeling burdened by that person; indeed, love tends to magnify the burden. These parents need space for their ambivalence, whether they can allow it for themselves or not. For those who love, there should be no shame in being exhausted – even in imagining another life.”

And even as we imagine, we know we will not trade what we have for something else. The author had it right when he said, “Having a severely challenging child intensifies life. The lows are almost always very low, the highs are sometimes very high…Even as the downside wears you thin, the upside keeps on giving…most of the families (described in the book) have ended up grateful for experiences they would have done anything to avoid.”

Three-point shots six times. We cheer not because he was able to do it like the rest of them, not because he was able to do it inspite of himself, but that he was able to do it BECAUSE of himself. That was what I felt the day I saw my son’s friends play basketball. I would’ve cheered for my son, too, except he was doing his own cheering. Like I said, he likes to dance. So, he was out there on the floor dancing. I was behind the videocam, prouder than ever.

Afternoon at the Barbershop

One of the boys, my daughter loves getting a haircut with her brothers at the barbershop. I think despite the frilly dresses, tutu skirts and sparkly gold ballet flats, she’s going to be one tough girl.

She sits quietly on a chair at the corner of the barbershop, waiting for her turn. She listens to the synchronous snip-snapping of pairs of scissors and the whirring of razors around her. Strands of hair, shorter than an inch, fall to the floor to be quickly swept away by a lady attendant who comes and goes.

She will have her black hair trimmed about an inch, still leaving it hanging below her shoulders. It won’t make much of a difference when it’s over. Maybe no one will notice. She doesn’t mind. She likes how the warm air from the blow dryer touches her head and neck until she feels drowsy. Sometimes, she falls asleep. But maybe this time she’ll try to stay awake and watch herself through the mirror.

A man vacates the barber’s chair with very short cropped hair, probably what they call a “skinhead.” She wonders how that would feel. She maintains she prefers her hair long.

It’s her turn. She goes up the chair on a bolster seat. Pretty soon, she won’t need it. She’s turning six in three months.

The barber wearing a surgical mask wraps a white towel around her neck and puts a black robe over it. There’s a man reclining on the seat beside her with shaving cream on his cheeks and chin, steam creeping all over his face. Her two brothers smile from across the room. She sees their reflection, the hair on their napes neatly shaven. She smiles back.


January of the Black Nazarene

In anticipation of the procession which will yet again take place on January 9, 2013 to celebrate the feast of the Black Nazarene, the MMDA says there will be stricter security measures.

Annually, the swarm of devotees traversing the long road from the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta to Quiapo Church risk life and limb to invoke this effigy of scorched wood which turned dark but retained its figure despite burning in a ship. It remains not just a symbol for those who aggregate to pull this massive statue by a single rope – it is their anchor, pinning their last hopes that even the mere act of wiping a handkerchief will give them the same resilience and provide answers to their supplication.

Naked gills

This guy, no bigger than my thumb, is a nudibranch residing in the waters of Secret Bay, Anilao. Unlike other nudibranchs, its colors are not striking and flamboyant. In fact, it’s deep dark green, very moss-like, and its gills resemble five miniature claws protruding from its rear. Its opposite end appears to be a face with two antennae, bushy eyebrows and a mustache.

Nudibranch Nembrotha milleri at Secret Bay, Anilao (Jan. 3, 2013)

Nudibranch Nembrotha milleri at Secret Bay, Anilao (Jan. 3, 2013)

Scenes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Underwater Version) are flashing in my head.

While other creatures like the Harlequin ghost pipefish,

Harlequin ghost pipefish at Secret Bay, Anilao (Jan. 3, 2013)

Harlequin ghost pipefish at Secret Bay, Anilao (Jan. 3, 2013)

Bearded scorpionfish,

Bearded scorpionfish at Twin Rocks, Anilao (Jan. 3, 2013)

Bearded scorpionfish at Twin Rocks, Anilao (Jan. 3, 2013)

and Blue ribbon eel play hide and seek,

Blue ribbon eel at Twin Rocks, Anilao (Jan. 3, 2013)

Blue ribbon eel at Twin Rocks, Anilao (Jan. 3, 2013)

this nudi is oblivious to the camera’s bright strobe and slowly slithers extending its soft body across the hard coral. It easily catches my attention.


It raises its body as if tiptoeing to say hello. I suppress the urge to name him. According to our dive master, these creatures are slowly shifting into greater depths to avoid too much human scrutiny. Each time they dive the terrain, these residents have moved to deeper waters. What are my chances of seeing it again? So, no, I am not going to name this cute, bodacious little guy waving its gills at me.

Our staring contest before I lost.


Homo sapien with Nembrotha milleri

So long, Greenie-Meanie!