“Plums”

In order to be

Discreet poets often send

Plums disguised as quotes

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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 day. He’d write short stories 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 saw print 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 maintain an unhealthy diet 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 was 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 only twice or thrice a week, 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. But he had very few friends to begin with, 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 learn more 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 capitalism, angel investing, bootstrapping, value proposition design, iteration, and so on, and he used them in his sentences whenever he could. For example, many months ago, he met an old acquaintance of his, a writer who is a hundred times more talented than him, or than he could ever hope to be, and this person asked him, in a tone which hinted of sarcasm and condescension, “So, what have you been 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 venture into a different kind of undertaking, and that is to start my own startup. I’m still looking for a technical co-founder, though, who can code for me, but basically I plan to build an app or platform that’ll teach any aspiring writer creative writing and allow that person to publish her works independently and at relatively low cost. That’s essentially the idea behind the product, but I’m still developing my business model canvas. Soon, I’ll be able to develop a prototype, do a quick launch, talk to our customers to make sure we are delivering real value, iterate the product, and so on until we find product-market fit. If it doesn’t work, we will pivot.”
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 regularly, wore the official uniform of startup founders — jeans, plain shirt, and sneakers — and began speaking in a calm, intelligent, and amiable manner. Think Elon Musk or Brian Chesky.
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 startups in Singapore and who’s in the country for business, he suddenly felt compelled to write her a story. Of course, he did not mention this to her while making his pitch. That would’ve sounded bizarre and completely jeopardized his proposal. But while talking to her about his company’s product and value proposition, he couldn’t help but think that this VC would look perfect as a queen in some adventure story, or a princess in some tragedy, or the daughter of an 18th-century English baron in a literary comedy.
Her name was Ingrid. She must be European, he thought. She looked and sounded so. Swedish, Norwegian, or Finnish? He’s not sure which. He didn’t ask. “A thousand years ago,” he might begin his story, “there lived a Swedish queen named Ingrid…” Or, “There was once a girl named Ingrid and she was a princess…” Or maybe, “He had spent countless hours rehearsing his lines: ‘Good day, Miss Bergstrom, my name is Samuel. How do you do, Miss Bergstrom? My name is Samuel. How are you, Miss Bergstrom? The name is Samuel. Very pleased to finally meet you, Miss Bergstrom. I am Samuel. Miss Bergstrom, long have I dreamed of someday meeting you. Finally, that day has come. My name is Samuel, but you may call me Sam.’ But when the day finally arrived for him to be introduced to the great baron’s daughter, he could only mutter her name, “Ingrid,” for as he stood there before her, he was left totally without breath.”
“I’m sorry?” Ingrid said.
He snapped out of his reverie. “Come again?” he said.
“Queen? Princess?” she said.
He looked as perplexed as her. “Queen?” he said.
“You were talking about queens and princesses just now,” she said, trying to suppress a smile.
“Oh,” he said. “Oh. Was I?”
“Yes. And barons and daughters. I’m not sure how those are connected to what you were saying.”
“Oh,” he repeated. “What was I saying again?” he grinned.
“Your users? You were talking about your monthly users.”
“Was I?”
She sighed, closed her laptop, and leaned forward slowly. “Mr… Alcuaz, was it?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Mr. Alcuaz. Sam, right? Please understand that I value my time very much…”
“Oh, of course, I’m terribly sorry…”
“Please let me continue,” she said, her voice now firmer. “I value my time highly. To be blunt, the only reason why I agreed to this meeting was because your incubator’s director is a close friend of mine. I don’t normally meet founders who I don’t know personally. So this is an exception. I’m doing this as a favor to her. Now, I’m not sure what kind of game you’re playing here…”
“Oh, I’m not…” he protested.
“Again, if you will let me finish…” Her cheeks were now flushed. “I’m getting the impression that you are not taking this pitch seriously at all. Let me finish. You have no idea how busy my schedule is. I have three other appointments after this and I still have to catch my flight back to Manila tonight. I have three other meetings in Makati tomorrow morning before heading off to Singapore. Frankly, I feel like I’m being trifled with.”
“Miss Bergstrom, I’m terribly sorry for being…”
“Let’s wrap this up, shall we?” she said, glancing at her watch. “I only have one more minute to spare. How many users do you currently have?”
“Well,” he said, trying to regain his composure, “we now have a little over 33,000 paying users, and we’ve been able to meet our weekly metrics since the start of the previous quarter. So I’m very positive that we’ll be able to reach profitability before long — probably in the first half of next year. I mean, I would be very surprised otherwise since we’ve had a lot of traction for such a short span of time. The only problem, though, is that we only have less than a month of runway left. So we badly need a new round of funding. Please, Miss Bergstrom, we’d love for you to grant us that.”
He waited with baited breath for her reply, but she didn’t look up from her laptop. Her face was illumined by the light from her screen. Her eyes were totally still and he could detect a faint smile on her lips, but it could just as easily have been a frown. She flicked a lock of hair over her ear and then time suddenly slowed down. She seemed to glow. He gasped as he saw the faint outline of a crown on her head.

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.