Category Archives: LIFE

Sleeping Outdoors is Underrated

I know very few outdoor people. Except for the few campers and mountaineers, most of my friends are city folk, not comfortable unless they’re in a room with four walls and air-conditioning. I don’t blame them. I’m not an outdoor person, either.

The one and only time I went camping was in grade five, when the girl scouts camped overnight on school grounds. We slept in tents and had a bonfire, and while it was fun, the heavy tent and the effort made in pitching it put me off camping. Plus, it was a heavy canvas tent and the Philippines is a tropical country, which meant heavy condensation inside, resulting in the amplification of, well, smells. I think it was this, more than anything, that turned me off. I did like the sleeping outdoors part, though, and I feel that I don’t do it enough.

The last time I got the opportunity to spend the night in the open air was on a group trip to Villa Escudero. My friend’s boyfriend was in town and he invited us to vacation with them. We stayed in a villa whose porch overlooked the river. While my friends shared the bedroom, I decided to spend the night on the porch. We moved a spare mattress next to the bamboo railing. My corner claimed, I proceeded to refuse to move from it, getting up only for dinner and bathroom breaks. I was quite excited to be spending the night outdoors, next to the river. I’ve heard stories about how the resort’s surroundings are enchanted, and I was hoping to experience something like that. Long story short, I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary, though I did have a great night.

I loved how quiet and serene it was. I loved that there was a constant breeze from the river, and how the trees and shrubs kept everything cool, despite it being the middle of summer. I loved how the light deepened into darkness, then lightened into morning. I loved how with the light came birdsong, soft at first, getting louder as more birds woke and joined in. What I did not like were the mosquitoes, but a bug patch on the back of my shirt–the one with cute animal designs they use on kids–quickly fixed that. Also, no weird smells.

I woke early, had breakfast, then switched to the hammock to sleep some more. Yes, I was on vacation with friends, but this was the group of introverted friends who agreed that going on vacation meant getting away from people, and sometimes, ‘people’ also meant each other.

Would I recommend sleeping out in the open? Yes. As long as you bring a mosquito patch and are sure you aren’t near anything wild or poisonous.

I’m looking forward to spending my next night outdoors. Yes, the porch of a cottage doesn’t count, but I’ve come to accept that that’s as close to nature as I’m willing to get.

Homemade Pancakes and Waffles: A Renewal of Family Ties

The last time I was in the US was when Obama was newly elected. It was my first time in the midwest–Batavia, a city outside Chicago, to be exact–and my first time staying with my relatives there. On my first morning, my cousin made pancakes. My eldest niece was six then, my nephew two, and my youngest niece just a month old. Eight years later, I was visiting again, this time under a new administration. And again, my first morning involved pancakes, this time made by my nieces, now fourteen and eight respectively, under the supervision of my cousin. The girls did the flipping while my cousin served the plain pancakes with melons, blueberries, and maple syrup. They were delicious.

My American relatives and I don’t communicate a lot unless we’re in each other’s countries, but whenever we do, it’s always fun, comforting, and enlightening. Before my first visit eight years ago, our memories of each other consisted of their summers spent in Manila, where they stayed at our grandmother’s house. I remember my two cousins marveling at how cheap the books in the Philippines were compared to thee US, and how they would stock up on them before returning. They’ve also visited once or twice as grownups, staying at my uncle’s place with their respective families after our grandma passed away.

Despite our sporadic interactions, we’ve somehow remained close, our doors open to each other for however long we want. My cousin, the one whose kids made the pancakes, explained that those summers she and her sister spent in Manila were fun ones, and it’s the memories of those times that have kept us comfortable with each other, despite our geographical distance. It’s what makes it possible to meet again after many years and take up where we left off while getting to know each other at the same time.

My nieces made pancakes again the weekend before I left, this time with chocolate chips mixed into the batter. But my visit wasn’t all about pancakes–when I visited my other cousin in Chicago, she made waffles for breakfast. Clearly, their side of the family has a griddle cake thing going on, something that I enjoyed very much. Now that I’m back home, I can’t eat a pancake or a waffle without thinking about the ones I had in Batavia and Chicago, which not only taste better, but were also made with care. I hope it doesn’t take me another eight years to return.

As a depressive, ‘just okay’ is a good thing

Photo by Ptr. Michael Lim.

A depressive friend once told me that feeling ‘just okay’ was what she aimed for every day.

As a depressive myself, I can empathize. Everyone expects to be happy all the time, like constant happiness is what humans should strive for, though it’s since been proved as not being normal.

But there’s extra pressure for people experiencing depression to ‘cheer up’ because surely, if you’re sad, looking on the bright side is all you need to do to be happy, right? Why settle for ‘just okay’ when you can be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious on the daily?

What non-depressives don’t realize that for someone used to the crushing weight of their hopelessness, to someone who would rather sleep all day because we all die and there is no point in anything, ‘just okay’ means being able to get out of bed. It means being able to bathe and eat and get out of the house, to meet friends without worrying about bringing them down.

‘Just okay’ means hearing about a death without one’s first thought being ‘why couldn’t it have been me?’ ‘Just okay’ means being okay about still being alive and recognizing it as a blessing and not a curse, a chance to do good things for oneself and for others.

My friend’s statement made so much sense. Now, when we ask each other how we are and we say, ‘just okay,’ we both know that it means we’re fine.

Becoming Human in the Modern Age

What does it mean to be truly gender sensitive? For one thing, it goes way beyond letting your date pick up the tab because she’s a feminist (and you’re a cheapskate). It also goes beyond bantering with your gay officemate then patting yourself on the back after for being so open minded. Gender sensitivity boils down to respecting others regardless of gender, and demanding for them the same basic human rights as the local demographic with the most privilege–the heterosexual Filipino man.

Sex and Gender

First thing’s first. What is the difference between sex and gender, and why is there such a big fuss over it? Simply put, sex is the set of genitals we are born with–male or female. Gender is what we choose to identify with, the most common types (so far) being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Gender is fluid, decided on by the individual, and can change throughout the course of his or her life. So it’s perfectly possible for your gay cousin to start dating a woman but still identify as a gay man.

Gender Sensitivity

Why is gender sensitivity such a big deal? It all boils down to human rights. Heterosexual males, especially if they’re caucasian, have historically had the upper hand in almost all aspects of society. Even if we argue that Filipino society used to be gender equal, with babaylans being revered as human conduits to the spirit world, fact is things changed when the Spanish arrived, or in some parts, when Islam spread, and heterosexual men were forever after considered superior to everyone else, with other genders aside from male and female rendered nonexistent.

Women’s Rights

Women’s right is a fairly new thing. The Magna Carta of Women, a comprehensive women’s human rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination through the recognition, protection, fulfillment and promotion of the rights of Filipino women, especially those belonging in the marginalized sectors of the society,’ didn’t become law until 2009. Though Filipinas may be a bit more well off than other countries in terms of treatment and pay scale, women still tend to earn less than men. There are also some behaviors that men take for granted that are actually sexist. These include:

Cat Calling – Yelling “Ang ganda mo naman” or wolf-whistling at a random stranger isn’t being friendly, it’s being creepy. You’re not complimenting a woman, you’re giving her unwanted attention which can make her feel uncomfortable.

“She was asking for it” – Guys, just because a woman wears certain clothes doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you. Wearing a tube top, for example, doesn’t mean she’s ready to get hot and heavy–maybe she was just feeling warm because hey, summer. Just because a lady passes out drunk in front of you doesn’t give you license to assault her and put it on video. A woman’s bad life choices doesn’t give you automatic permission to take advantage of her–unless that’s what she wants, then by all means, go ahead.

“No actually means yes, if you push hard enough” – We all know the type–the pushy person who doesn’t take no for an answer, the one who will keep pushing and prodding you until you give the smallest, most noncommittal hint of a ‘maybe,’ which he or she will then take to mean ‘hell yes!’ then take it against you after when you complain. We all hate that person. Don’t be that person. If your lady’s (or man’s) answer isn’t an enthusiastic ‘Yes! Now na!’ or ‘Kiss me pa more!’ assume that she (or he) is uncomfortable with the situation and back away, or ask her how she feels before carrying on.

The Friend Zone – Many men complain about being locked in the friendzone, that sad place where folks with unrequited love for a friend languish. People in the friend zone ask to be pitied–here they are, doing everything for the object of their affection, only to be shunted to the side for someone else. Folks in the friend zone, here’s some news for you: the friend zone isn’t a cold, lonely, soulless place your friend has locked you into; it’s a cold, lonely soulless place you, and only you, decided to camp out in.

Anyone of any gender who places themselves in the friend zone is being unfair to him or herself, and to the person he or she wants to woo romantically. Being in the friend zone automatically means resentment to the other party for not noticing your existence. “I do everything for her, and yet she chooses that loser!” That statement, a common refrain from men in the friend zone, contains an underlying sentiment of a failed transaction–I did this but she didn’t do this. That isn’t love, that’s entitlement. Also, by not revealing your feelings, you miss the chance of the person you like feeling the same way; and he or she doesn’t, the chance to move on to someone who does.

Consent is king, or queen – With so many rules in place, how does anyone expect to get anywhere with the opposite sex? Here’s a radical suggestion: be straight and to the point with what you want, and proceed only when you’re sure she’s on board with the idea. A great side effect is that there’s also less drama this way.

LGBT

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender. What’s the big deal? Again, it comes down to basic human rights. Since society mostly sees things from a heterosexual point of view, the idea that someone can love someone of the same gender may seem baffling, even scary. But that doesn’t give you or anyone the right to treat them differently.

“Bakla/ tomboy kasi” – Every human being is different. Don’t ascribe stereotypical behavior to someone just because of their sexual orientation. For example, effeminate does not equal gay, and brusque does not equal lesbian or man-hater.

Address by gender – There has been some confusion as to how people in the LGBT community should be addressed, the most prominent case being that of Jennifer Laude, the trans woman killed by an American soldier stationed in Clark. Half the press used her real name, Jeffrey, while others used her chosen name and gender, Jennifer, and addressed her as a woman. Really guys, it’s simple: address the individual in the way he or she wants. If a trans woman wants to be addressed as she and miss, then do so.

Demand equal rights – Isn’t it unfair that people who identify as LGBT are, by law, required to pay taxes and yet ey can’t, by law, get married? Part of gender sensitivity is seeing everyone as equal, with equal rights and access to privileges. “But the Bible says homosexuality is a sin!” you say. True, but this doesn’t mean the church has to change its laws–there is such a thing as freedom of religion, after all. It means that the country should change its laws to grant equality to this significant part of its citizenry.

Men’s Rights

What about us men, you ask? This question has spawned a lot of ‘men’s right’ groups aimed at ‘taking back the power that men once held.’ If you believe this, I hope someone slaps you upside your head real soon. Folks who advocate for men’s rights aren’t seeing the bigger picture: that men have always held the upper hand. The ‘loss of power’ they feel isn’t because of an actual loss of cis (the ‘normal’) male rights, but because of the gaining of rights by other groups–women and LGBT. It can be weird and scary and life-altering, but instead of fighting or being asses about it, why not try embracing it at your own pace? After all, open-mindedness is the first step to becoming human.

This essay appeared in Garage magazine in 2015.

Addendum:

My friend Samie Carvalho, a trans woman, would like to clarify some things about trans folk in the essay:

“Simply put, assigned sex is the “sex” (because even the concept of sex is a social construction) that the society assigned us at birth based in the genitals we are born with–male or female, in a very binary framework that exclude for example intersex. People born with “ambiguous” genitals, or genitals that don’t fit in that pre-concepted binary idea of what sex suppose to be, instead of what is really is. Gender is what we identify ourselves with, regardless our genitals, based on biological and psycho-social factors, the most common types (so far) is being male or female. So, for example, if you were assigned as male at birth AND you identify as male, you are a CISGENDER male. But if you were assigned as female, BUT STILL identifying as male, you are a TRANSGENDER male.

“But gender can be very fluid, and new perceptions about gender can occur and can change throughout the course of his or her life. And gender isn’t the same of gender expression. Being “masculine” or “feminine” doesn’t makes anyone more or less gay, lesbian, straight, cis or trans. A cis straight women can be as masculine as she feels or wants to be. A trans woman can be very “butch” if she feels so, and this doesn’t make her less “womanly.”.

Sexual orientation is about who we feel attracted for based on our gender. So, if you are attracted to someone that is the opposite of your gender (again, regardless your genital), you are heterosexual. If is someone of the same gender, homosexual, and if both, bisexual. So, a men who feel attracted o a woman, even when she is transgender, still a heterosexual men. Even if this woman still have a penis. Gender and sexual orientation is between the ears, in the brain, not between the legs.

“Half the press used her ASSIGNED name, Jeffrey, while others used her chosen (and real) name and gender, Jennifer, and addressed her as a woman. Really guys, it’s simple: address the individual in the way he or she wants. If a trans woman wants to be addressed as she and miss, then do so.”

 

Carlo Vergara is Leaving Comics and It’s All Our Fault

 

 

zaturnnah
Carlo Vergara’s Zsazsa Zaturnnah. Image via comicvine.com

 

Award-winning graphic novelist and playwright Visconde Carlo Vergara announced today that he’s leaving his beloved medium, comics, for monetary reasons. In short, making comics isn’t enough to live on. He writes:

“Yesterday, I met with the organizers of Komikon, and during that meeting we talked about the challenges that local comic book makers are currently facing. Suffice to say, there’s a lot.

“Later that day, I was in a coffee shop and ran into a couple of dear friends I haven’t seen in a long time. During our conversation, one friend talked about a medical procedure he had gone through, a procedure that cost him quite a bit of money.
“After we parted, I began to wonder what would happen if I suddenly had an emergency and I needed a significant amount of money. Money that I didn’t have. And when you reach a certain age without a retirement fund, without a backup when something goes wrong, things become very scary.
“This is the reason why I thought of quitting comics.
“Sure, I’ve had great success with Zaturnnah, but the truth is, I’m practicing my art at a huge loss.”

 

Vergara is one of the country’s most successful graphic novelists, and even his art is not enough to pay the bills. He breaks it down below:

“What about sales, you might ask? A book author gets less than 10% of a book’s retail price. So if you buy your favorite author’s book at a price of P200, which is the price of Part One, you’re giving him less than P20 for the story. The bulk of that P200 goes into converting that story into a physical book and placing that book in a bookstore.

“In Metro Manila, the current minimum wage is P481 per day. If a minimum wage earner works for four months, then he would earn about P42,000 or P10,250 a month. For a P200 book to reach the same amount, it should sell about 2,100 copies.
“If the author wants to earn just P20,000 a month working full time, then more than 8,000 books have to be sold. And selling 8,000 copies of any book is very, very difficult, moreso for the graphic novel which carries a higher price tag compared to a prose novel. I’ve heard too many comments from people wanting to buy but can’t afford it.
“And this is why I’m thinking of quitting comics, even if it has opened many doors for me. We might point to the adaptations (which I’m grateful for) and merchandising (which honestly hasn’t worked for me), but these are not assurances, and the author has to devote extra time for these.”

This is heartbreaking to fans, but also a wake-up call to the realities of being a creator. Simply put: you don’t earn enough money. Not even when you’re Carlo freaking Vergara. Not even when you are the mind behind brilliant works like Zsazsa Zaturnnah and Kung Paano Ako ay Naging Leading Lady.” Not even when your creations are loved and lauded, not even when your characters have helped shape Philippine pop culture.

This is embarrassing. We want to be constantly entertained and we’re constantly complaining about the Filipino not making enough quality work, and yet we can’t even support the ones that actually do come out with groundbreaking stuff. Sometimes, this is due to economics and can’t be helped–we’re a developing country with a high poverty rate after all, and when it comes to survival, food and shelter will always trump reading. But a lot pf people who do have money to spare either won’t but local because they complain, ‘Why is it so expensive when it’s just locally made?’ or they automatically assume that local equals corny and won’t give Filipino-created works a chance. This is why we’re losing great creators like Carlo, and we’re all going to suffer for it.

However, like many artists, for Carlo, art is a calling and not a job (otherwise, why would he have kept at it when it wasn’t financially viable? Why do any of us keep at it when it isn’t financially viable?), so he’s hoping for a way back:

“The only thing I feel that can really help the graphic novelist is if readers are willing to buy the digital version.

“I understand people’s apprehensions for not buying digital. I, too, love the feel and smell of a new book, plus the fact that I’m holding a physical product, not something that’s just made up of bytes. And, reading comics on a digital device is challenging as well. But it’s about the only opportunity for a comic book creator to charge an amount that’s a little better than what he gets from the sale of a physical book.
“When Zaturnnah sa Maynila is complete, it would cost a reader more than P600 to buy it, and only if its available in the bookstore (which is another problem altogether). The reader would be paying me less than P60 for over 240 pages of artwork and story.
“But what if I charged just P240 for the entire story, broken up into 12 “issues” (for easier download). Over 95% of that amount would go to me, allowing me to spend on online marketing. It’s about the price of a movie.”
For the independent creator, the advent of digital technology is a godsend, because it enables them to keep creating at lower costs to themselves and the consumer. Vergara even has an answer for folks who may not have credit cards:
“A reader might say, “But I don’t have a credit card.” Well, there is a free app called Paymaya that can generate a unique credit card number that a reader can use to pay for online transactions. Paymaya is regulated by the Central Bank of the Philippines, and it can be loaded up through the bill payment centers of Robinson’s and SM, kiosks in 7-Eleven and Mini-Stop, and other establishments.”
He lays out how the digital format can help the graphic novelist:

“Going digital helps the graphic novelist by:

“1) Ensuring that that book is readily available 24/7. No more, “But I can’t find your book!”
“2) Allowing the graphic novelist to spend on online marketing. No more, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a new book!”
“3) Giving the graphic novelist his due for the amount of time and effort spent.
“4) Making the work more affordable for the reader, though the reading experience may suffer.”
Though he admits that the reading quality may suffer for readers used to a more tactile experience, when you think about it, all four reasons for the digital format helps readers and fans, too.
In the end, it comes down to this: If you want Carlo to keep creating, if you want the Philippine graphic novel and storytelling traditions to remain strong, support Carlo Vergara in this endeavor. Make sure that he can stay in comics. Because if Carlo decided to quit comics for good, we’re all at fault for it.
“If enough people who like my stories are willing and able to buy my digital comics, then I can continue with less worry about my future. The physical book can still be released later on with bonus material, and there’s less risk for the publisher and the bookstore.
“I guess that’s the miracle I need.”