Saturday, May 5, 2007

Why we're writing this blog

When I was in the eighth grade, I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I went through high school and college with this career path in mind, not entirely sure of how to start doing it, or what tools I would need. I got my B.A. in English because my parents were paying for it and because I figured that with a general English degree, I could learn about different types of fiction and how to write it.

Around the same time, the Internet started to gain mainstream popularity, to the point of where I was able to convince my parents to get us a computer so I could surf the 'net to keep up with my various geek-related hobbies. We had several fights over my hogging of the phone lines at night, and my dad took to email with a rapidity that astonished me.

I've always known that my dad was a creative guy. He used to paint when I was younger, and I remember one day where I got into his oil paints and accidentally ate half a tube of black. Man, was he pissed. He tried his hand at sculpture, and got two of his pieces into the Brea Art Gallery. The last time I was home for Christmas, he was still working in collages, sculpture, and of course, in words.

See, what I didn't realize until a few years ago is that my dad is an amazing writer. He's always been funny with his college buddies telling jokes; he's just as funny (and possibly a bit corny) in his writing. He started writing long missives to his friends and the rest of our large extended family, and gained a small following.

If there's one thing that my dad and I always clash on, it's the fact that he wants me to become a successful writer. "Why don't you just write a book?" he always asks, and I always tell him that I'm not ready to, I'm not skilled enough, I don't have time... a myriad of excuses that we both know are bullshit. In truth, I'm scared and I don't know how to convey that to him.

At the same time, I know that he's wanted to become a published writer, too. He wrote two songs that he tried to get on the radio, he tried writing a children's book for my niece, he's tried to get into magazines. Living in New York City, I know what an uphill battle he's got ahead of him if he wants to gain credibility.

So last Christmas, I decided to give my dad the gift of publishing. After doing some research into the free blogger systems out there, I decided to get him an account here so that I could upload his stories (edit his grammar a little bit) and the world could see just what a great writer my dad is.

The reason why I'm uploading his stories rather than him doing it himself is that a) we live 3,000 miles apart and I don't trust in my ability to teach him how to use this blog over the phone and b) he wants me to polish up his grammar to acceptable levels of English. I've pretty much left his text alone, except for changing some verb tenses and adding particles of speech where they usually should go. All the phrases in Tagalog I've left intact because I don't know what they mean (and that's a blog entry for a different day).

Every other day or so, I'll either put up a new story or dig one up from his vast archives. I might pop in and contribute an article or two, but only if I think it really relates to what he's talking about.

I hope you enjoy my dad's work.

A set of three important words

I never thought I was capable of saying them. Several years ago, it would have been unheard of. From me, anyway.

"Tama na po!"

I bet you are thinking of what context these three words were used. I bet too that some of you might even been thinking of something naughty. Well, to set the records straight from the beginning, here is the story.

I was in West Covina, one late morning last week to purchase a balikbayan box. West Covina is now one of the hubs of Filipino activities in Southern California, with lots of big supermarkets, restaurants, bakeries, small stores, banks, and other remittances offices. I got hungry after I acquired the box, and Toto's Lechon was just around the corner. Time for an early lunch.

The array of trays of foods are mouth-watering, more so if you are hungry. The grill is right there behind the counter, so you can smell the delicious aroma of burning meat, like barbecued chicken and pork chops. The smoke goes up the vent, but some is left inside the store, to permeate to the unconscious mind the idea of a home-cooked meal.

The two-course combination lunch costs around five dollars. Before I made my selection, the lady scooped two heaping full ladles of rice on my plate, then added some more. Normally, I would have welcomed that generosity. I like rice. No, I love rice!

And that's when I said: "Tama na po." "Isang sandok lang."

Still reverberating in my mind were all the comments and greetings bestowed upon me by friends and relatives I had not seen for quite sometime during my last vacation in March to the Philippines.

"Ang taba mo!" Oh, there's another three words.

When I was growing up, it was a nice thing to say--a compliment really, because it meant you were not starving, or you were eating healthy. Being payat then was synonymous to a lack of healthy food, or just plain food. The rich people were mataba, the poor, payat.

But maybe not so anymore nowadays. Maybe I was just mataba. Period.

Well, probably so. I gained five more pounds while I was on vacation. So, one of the things I promised to do was lose a few pounds when I got back. I remembered when my first daughter got married, I went into a diet mode. Hundreds of pictures were going to be taken, not to mention the video of the ceremonies and reception. By simply eating less, with the same daily activities without joining any exercise facilities, I was able to get down to my desirable weight.

This time is a different story though. It's much harder to lose weight because of my age. My metabolism is down. I don't burn as many calories as before. And maybe, I am not as active as before too.

Anyway, the lady with the ladle gave herself a quiet smile. Or maybe it was a grin. I didn't ask why. I just assumed she had the idea that rice causes my weight problem. Or she was happy that there would be more rice for others. Or maybe she asked herself why I did not offer to cut down on the pork chop and lumpia. What? Sira ba ang ulo niya?

Anyway, in a span of six weeks, I lost ten pounds. I weigh myself everyday, sometimes morning, afternoon and evening. I eat more fruits and vegetables. More fish and chicken. Less rice and bread. I cut down also on soda. Eat the same amount of nuts. Consume the same amount of wine. But basically, I just eat less. No more second servings. No more evening snacks while watching TV. Sometimes, I can not believe my self. I found self-control!

Would it have something to do with my chest pains lately? Or the stories I heard about friends and relatives having strokes or heart attacks? Or the constant reminders from my better half? Or maybe both.

Today, while waiting for the doctor in the private waiting room for my three-month follow up- checkup, I noticed a poster on the wall. It gave the ideal weight for a person's height. Something that has to do with body fat ratio. Mine, at five feet seven inches, I should be 153 pounds at the heaviest. Wow, is that right? I have another thirteen pounds to go?

I had the urge to rip that poster off the wall right then and there. And when I calmed down and mellowed out, I thought of another way to combat this angry feeling. I took out my pen and wrote on one corner of the poster the initials ATM. And this I hope will be my rallying cry to succeed.

Wish me luck with my new ATM motto: "Ang Taba Mo."