“If the Apocalypse Should Come Today” (A tanka)

I want it to catch
Me in style: Fully attired
Like a geek: glasses
On, dark jeans, sneakers, black shirt
And drowned by books in my room.

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On Animated Films

We’ve started a family tradition a few months ago, a Friday Night Family Movie Date, wherein we just stay at home and watch animated movies every Friday night. We’ve seen dozens of movies already — many of course from Disney and Pixar, and several from Hayao Miyazaki and Cartoon Saloon, the makers of The Secret of Kells and The Song of the Sea (which was richly illustrated and stunningly beautiful, by the way) — and we’ve almost exhausted the top-rated animated films from Rotten Tomatoes.

And Bel and I have really come to appreciate these films. They are not merely “cartoons”, but actually are works of art. It’s great because we get to enjoy them with the kids so we have a shared experience, and each movie can also provide us with talking points for conversations about concepts like beauty, truth, goodness, justice, heroism, virtue, evil, sacrifice, love, family, God, and even technology, computers, robots, and science (in the case of Big Hero Six).

We missed our movie date last Friday, so we made up for it today. We saw Toy Story 2 and Sleeping Beauty. It’s amazing that movies as old as Sleeping Beauty, which was made in 1959, still look stunning today. Anyway, my favorite prince by far is Prince Philip because he is what a hero ought to be — valiant, virtuous, and hard-working. He did not have his princess handed to him on a silver platter. He had to fight for her, and he was willing to face hell itself in order to win her, armed with the only weapons that matter — truth (for his sword), virtue (for his shield), and love (the thing that kept him moving).

It’s also great to expose kids to fairy tales, I think, because, in addition to exposing them to things of beauty, you also set their standards high up. For example, I would expect Luke to have the qualities of a prince or a knight when he grows up, and look for a woman who possesses the qualities of a lady or princess. Or I would want Lizzy to conduct herself as a princess would conduct herself, and settle for nothing less than a gallant, heroic, prince-like guy in choosing her husband-to-be.

Once we run out of animated movies to watch, we’ll probably move on to non-animated classics like The Wizard of Oz, which Luke has partly seen and loved, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, which they’ve seen parts of and adore, and so on.

The Saint

“He’s here,” the old man said, lowering his newspaper, chuckling under his breath. “The saint.” His wife smiled behind him.

“Right on schedule,” he said.

It was a Friday. The man in question always goes to church on Fridays. He parked his car across the cafe from where the old man and his wife were sitting. He didn’t know they’ve been watching him for months now.

“What a good man,” the wife said. “I wonder who he is. I wonder where he lives.”

“He doesn’t look like he’s from around here,” the old man said.

“I wonder if he has a wife and kids,” she said.

“He looks like a family man to me,” he said.

“What a good man,” she said. “And so young. When was the last time you went to confession, Tony? And to think that we live right across a church.”

The old man grumbled and went back to his reading.

The man disappeared into the confessional. After what seemed like a long time, he emerged from it with an expression that was solemn and severe. He walked slowly into the adoration chapel, leaving his shoes by the door.

“He never stops by here,” the old man said, stirring his coffee.

“No. He must be very busy,” the wife said.

A quarter of an hour passed by before they saw the man again. He bought a piece of rose from a vendor who was idling by the parking lot and laid it beside a statue of the Virgin Mary. Then he lit some candles and stood motionless for several minutes.

“What a good man,” the wife repeated, more to herself than to her husband.

Inside his car later that afternoon, on his way home, the man beat at his chest and wept, “Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord! I am so ashamed. When will this agony end?” He wiped the tears off his cheeks with his sleeve. “Oh Lord, that I be a decent man. Please help me become a decent man.”

Two Hats

He wears two hats — that of a writer and that of an entrepreneur. He used to wear the first hat a lot. That is, he used to write a lot. He used to do it every single day. He’d write short stories, or pieces of “micro” fiction, and store them in his notebook or laptop. Some of them he kept. He never showed those to anyone. Some, he sent to publishers. Quite a few were published in some magazine or other.

But the first hat led him to a lot of trouble. He’d lose his sense of order completely. He’d write for days and eat unhealthy meals during those days. He’d stay up for long hours just to finish his writing. After finishing a story or two, he’d sleep for long periods of time. There’s no consistency at all in his habits. Sometimes he’d sleep at 3 in the morning and wake up at half past noon, or sleep at half past noon and wake up at 9 or 10 in the evening. He’d also neglect grooming altogether — sometimes taking a shower twice or thrice a week only, despite the humid climate. He’d also totally ignore his social life. He’d stay home for weeks on end without seeing anyone, except his landlady and the grocer. He had very few friends, so that wasn’t really a problem. However, this kind of life had more periods of misery than joy. Feelings of happiness which followed news of being published were quickly succeeded by feelings of ineptness, aimlessness, and insecurity. He often found himself moody, irritable, and on the whole, just plainly emotional.

So eventually, he went looking for another hat to wear, and this was when he discovered that he also loved entrepreneurship. In particular, he loved the very idea of startups. He adored how tech geeks, startup founders, and millennial billionaires speak. Their manners were as attractive to him as the manners of writers, novelists, and intellectuals. So he began to teach himself about startups and entrepreneurship, and he strove to understand the language of these geeks and founders. He loved terms like product-market fit, pivoting, business model canvas, disruption, innovation, pain point, coding, scale up, venture capitalist, bootstrapping, value proposition design, iteration, and so on, and he used them in his sentences whenever he could. For example, just last week, he met an old friend of his, a writer who is infinitely more talented, successful, and accomplished than him or that he could ever hope to be, and this friend of his asked him, in a tone which hinted of sarcasm and sneering, “So, what are you up to these days? Still writing?” To which he promptly answered, in a tone that barely concealed his agitation and disdain, “Oh, I don’t write as often as I used to. We both know there’s very little money in writing. I’ve decided to pivot into a different undertaking, and that is to start my own startup company. I’m still looking for a founder who can code for me, but basically I plan to build an app that’ll teach any writer creative writing and allow that person to publish her works independently. That’s the idea behind the product, but I’m still developing my business model canvas. Soon, I’ll develop a prototype, talk to our customers to make sure we are delivering real value, and iterate the product.”

What his second hat did to him was restore order and sanity to his life. He got rid of his mustache and beard and had a clean hair cut. He started taking a bath every day, wore the official uniform of startup founders — plain shirt, jeans, and sneakers — and began speaking in a calm, intelligent, and well-modulated manner. Think Sam Altman or Elon Musk.

These days, he wears his entrepreneurship hat 98% of the time. He rarely reads or writes fiction, but he’s happy. He’s at peace.

But just this morning, he was in danger of totally losing all his peace and tranquility, for while pitching for a venture capitalist in a cafe, a woman in her mid-twenties who was the co-founder of several tech startups in Hong Kong and Singapore, and who’s in the country for business and vacation, he suddenly felt compelled to write her a story. Of course, he did not mention this while making his pitch. That would’ve been absurd. That would’ve completely jeopardized his proposal altogether. But while talking to her about his company’s product and value proposition, he couldn’t help but imagine that this VC would look perfect as a queen in some adventure story, or a princess in a tragedy, or the daughter of a Regency England baron in a literary comedy.

Her name is Via. Isn’t “Via” Latin for “way”? He’s not sure. He also doesn’t know whether she’s Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, or a little bit of each. She seemed a little bit of each. A Nordic girl with an English accent and a Latin name. Very interesting. “Once upon a time, there lived a Swedish queen named Via…” Or how about, “There was once a girl named Via, and she was a princess…” Or maybe, “He had spent many hours rehearsing his lines: “Good day, Miss Bergstrom, my name is William. How do you do, Miss Bergstrom? My name is Will. How are you, Miss Bergstrom? The name is Will. So pleased to finally meet you, Miss Bergstrom. I am William. Miss Bergstrom, long have I dreamed of someday meeting you. My name is Willy.” But when the day finally came when he was introduced to the great baron’s daughter, he could only mutter her name, “Via,” for as he stood there before her, he was out of breath.” Yes, that might work.

Getting published in the Philippines Graphic

I’m so happy! One of my short stories will soon appear in the pages of the Philippines Graphic, the country’s leading newsweekly and literary magazine. I’m overjoyed because it’s been a while since I wrote and got anything published. This will be my fourth story in the magazine. I feel validated as a fiction writer. Thank you, Lord.

Philippines Graphic

The Scoundrel

The scoundrel wakes up at exactly the same time every morning – at 6 o’clock. Immediately upon waking, he prays. Then, he takes a bath, dresses up, joins his wife in the kitchen for some breakfast, kisses her on the mouth, and leaves for the office. He is seldom late.

In the office, he works diligently. He chit chats with his colleagues occasionally, joins them for lunch sometimes, and works diligently again until 5 in the afternoon.

At 5:15 in the afternoon, he heads back home.

This routine is repeated throughout the week, until Sunday. Sunday, he rests. Sunday, he goes to church in the morning with his wife. He always liked to sit in the last pew at the back of the church. She did not prefer it, but she understood.

He did not like to go to public places, especially malls. He’d like to stay away from them forever, if he could help it. But he couldn’t help it, for his wife occasionally would have a need to go to the mall, either to shop, buy groceries, or watch a movie. In such instances, he always made it a point to wear sunglasses. And he almost always looked down at his shoes when he walked.

When dining out, he always made sure that they’d sit at the least conspicuous part of the restaurant. This usually meant at a table near the kitchen, the emergency exit, or the restroom. It also helps when the place is dim, quiet, and uncrowded.

The hardest time of the day for the scoundrel’s wife is late afternoon, just between the so-called “golden hour” — when the afternoon is awash by the sun’s golden light — and dusk. At such times, his usually bubbly wife would keep quiet, stare out of the window of their car, and wordlessly weep.

For the scoundrel, every single minute of the day is difficult, but the hardest part of all is late in the evening, when his wife is already asleep and he finds himself alone again. At such times, it was his turn to weep. He’d bolt up from his bed, storm towards the bathroom, and wished he’d find something there to smash and break. Failing to do so, he’d just go back to their bedroom and restlessly pace the floor. In the dark, he’d grieve. He’d pine for the things he’s broken and the people he’d lost because of what he’s done. There was no one else to blame, no one he could point his finger to. There was no villain in his life bigger than the person he had become. Sleep wasn’t a state he could escape to, for his unconscious mind was more severe and unforgiving than his conscious mind. In any case, his waking hours themselves feel like a very bad dream, and there didn’t seem to be an end in sight. Fatigue would eventually catch up with him at two or three in the morning, but no matter how late he’d sleep, he’d always wake up at six. Reality would jolt him out of his sleepiness the moment he’d come to consciousness. How many months have passed since that day, six, seven, nine? He stopped counting. Still, it feels like no amount of time can ever take him far enough from that one moment.

In the morning, he’d sit up, pray, take a shower, dress up, and join his wife at the kitchen table. He has nothing to look forward to except his wife’s smile. The quality of his day, of his life, hinges on her mercy.

It

You don’t believe me, but I’m telling you the truth. Me and her, we’ve never actually done, you know, it. We never have. I know it sounds incredible, but it’s true, we’ve never really done, you know, it.

We do spend a lot of time with each other. Sometimes, we’d hang out at my place. At other times, we’d hang out at her place. Yes, we are almost always alone. Yes, we are quite inseparable. But we’ve never done, you know, it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am straight. I have feelings and desires just like any man. And I do recognize that I’ve never met any girl more attractive than her in my life. But we’ve never done it, I swear.

Well, talk, that’s what we do. We talk. We do a lot of it. Or rather, she does a lot of it. I “do” a lot of listening. If we’re not talking, we’re reading. Her condo is literally filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of books. Her walls are covered with shelves, each groaning under the weight of books. If she’s not reading, she’s playing the piano. If I’m not reading, I’m listening to her playing. If I’m not listening to her playing, I’m listening to the ruffling sound she makes each time she turns a page. If I’m not listening to that, I’m listening to her breathing. Sometimes, if it’s really, really quiet, I swear, I can hear the beating of her heart. If I’m neither listening nor talking, I would just, you know, look at her. Follow her about with my eyes. She’d flit between her room and the kitchen. She’d take a quick bath or prepare something for lunch or dinner. Yes, when we’re not working, we’d usually spend the whole day together, just talking, listening, reading, watching, cooking, and eating.

The closest we’ve ever come to doing, you know, it, was one night a few weeks ago when it rained really hard in the city. We were drenched from head to foot when we got to my apartment. She borrowed my Johnny Cash shirt and changed in my room. I changed into my pajamas when she was finished. The rain didn’t let up and it was way past midnight, so instead of sending her home, we decided to watch The Crown in Netflix. We ate cheese and grapes and had too much wine. We were on the sofa, our shoulders pressed together. The room was freezing but I could feel her warm skin through the shirt I lent her. She was giggling. Something the young Queen Elizabeth said amused her. Then she gave me her glass and bid me to drink some of her wine. Then she picked a piece of grape and placed it inside my mouth. I tasted her forefinger and thumb. Before we knew it, we were tumbling down the sofa, tightly locked in each other’s embrace, wrestling on the carpeted floor, like two fighters employing Jiu Jitsu in a Mixed Martial Arts game. In one moment, my face was pressed against her throat, drinking in her scent, breathing her breath, and in the next moment, she was pushing against me, exclaiming, “Wait, stop. Stop!”

Then she sat up, straightened her shirt, and calmly said, “Don’t you find this highly improper?”

I nodded, and we both stood up, took the glasses from the carpeted floor, collected ourselves, and finished watching The Crown.

To this day, we’ve never spoken a word about that night, and we are back to our old routine: talking, listening, reading, eating.