Why I read

It takes a village to raise a mother. My latest post for Mothering Heights.

Today Anna asked me five why’s in quick succession. When I ran out of answers, I had to do the only quick survival tactic available to tired mothers: I pointed out the window and shouted, “Look!” (So what if every slapstick comedian does that? It worked this afternoon.)

One day Anna is going to ask us, why is the sky blue? My first thought is, “Because it doesn’t look good in red.” It might make her laugh, perhaps make her think out of the box, maybe exercise her imagination, but in the end it won’t help her much.

So this is what it also means to raise a mother—I have to read.

The rest of the post is here.

Photo credit: Best Books


The Truth, and Nothing But

May I share my latest post on my column, Mothering Heights.

There is a term for an answer too late in the coming. The French call it l’esprit de l’escalier—literally, “stairwell wit”—a comeback given too late, a retort thought of only after the moment had ended, perhaps when one is on the stairs, leaving the event that required the rejoinder.

Read the rest of the post here.

Reasons for breathing

May I share my recent post on my column Mothering Heights.

I learn much from other mothers. I learn love and unselfishness from my sister, Naomi. I learn about creativity from Rhea. I learn about wellness from Richelle. I learn about defying the odds from Rachel Santos.

I visited Rachel in 2006 to interview he­r for Working Mom. She talked almost non-stop, with a mouth primed for laughing and eyes built for smiling. She had just finished her licensure exams for teaching, her dream job since she was a little girl. “I am just so excited to start teaching,” she said. “But who would hire me?” She pointed to her arm, “They’d look at this and think I tried to commit suicide.”

Her right forearm was pocked with needle marks, bruises, veins, and a noticeable bump on her wrist that vibrated when you laid a finger on it. It resembled a battlefield, for that was what it was, with scars of Rachel’s crusade for her life and that of her son’s.

Read the rest of the post here.

Mothering Heights: Like magic

This is my fifth post for my column Mothering Heights.

A few nights ago, while I was journaling, I thought: Nothing remarkable happened to me today. But that’s the thing: nothing has to. Writing isn’t just about recording the fantastic; it’s recognizing that the very ordinariness of our days are worth writing about, are worth being grateful for. Each day is carved into its own space, separated from the gush of time—each day is sacred and each day’s delights are sanctified. What we do with that grace is our gift, but also our accountability.

Read the rest of the post here.


It’s my second night away from home. I didn’t get to sleep much; I was namamahay.

An exact translation for the Filipino term namamahay escapes me; the term homesick doesn’t capture the traitorous way my body searches for familiar scents, for pillows shaped by our contours, for carlights playing on the ceiling, or for a bed that creaks when I turn to my right but not when I turn to my left.

Our home has carved itself on my body.

Mothering Heights: God is in the details

Sharing my fourth post for my column Mothering Heights.

‘My husband and I would like to share our story, which was published in a lovely anthology, Against All Odds: Coincidence or Miracle? Volume IV, produced by Flor Gozon Tarriela and Butch Jimenez. It was one of the hardest stories I had to write, not because I didn’t know how to tell it, but because the road we’d traveled, from there to here, had been pockmarked with hope and despair. It was hard to relive the journey, and much harder not to break down in tears for how God had blessed the broken road that led us straight to our Anna. (Thank you, Rascall Flatts, for letting me borrow your words.)”

Read  the rest of the post here.

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Writing on the go

Traveled three hours this afternoon to Bataan, where I will hold a technical writing workshop in the next two days. I was the only passenger in a comfortable rental van.

The drive, though pleasant, wasn’t how I wanted to use my very limited me-time. So I got out my laptop and started writing. I got carsick–I often do–so I positioned my index fingers to find the trusty ridges on letters F and J, and wrote while looking out the window.

I didn’t care about errors and typos; I couldn’t, anyway. So I just wrote, the mobile equivalent of Julia Cameron’s morning pages–seat-of-my-pants and stream-of-consciousness writing. I unfettered my thoughts, undeterred by bumps in the road or in my mind.

I came out with so much. Especially a truth I had not recognized in something so familiar. As my mind leapt from my mother to my daughter to magic, I suddenly realized this:

Before Jesus miraculously multiplied a little boy’s lunch to feed 5,000, He first lifted up the boy’s lunch basket and thanked God. He gave thanks for two tiny fish and five pieces of bread before they amounted to anything.

Before we ask for more, perhaps we should first be grateful for what we have. How can we be entrusted with much when we cannot appreciate less?

The writing exercise underscores three things:

1. I should write. My memory is weak, and my thoughts are mercurial. I think of something one minute, and I’d lose it to the void the next. I need to tether my thoughts to the ground.

2. I can write anywhere.

3. I will be OK with first drafts (Anne Lamott calls them “shitty first drafts”). I will rewrite them later; the real writing is in the rewriting.

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Years ago I wrote this paragraph in a rush. Years later I still need to finish the last few pages to complete this story. I should, very soon; the suspense is killing me.

It was supposed to be funny, the way the invisible borderline officially cleaved the marble floor of their house, running obliquely from the corner window towards the staircase, and thrusting the dining area and kitchen from part of the living room. The house was riven between two governments: one portion lodged in a city and the other entrenched in a municipality. Eleanor’s stepfather, for instance, could have laughed at the fortuity and joshed her mother: “Where would you like to eat tonight, dear? Pateros or Taguig?”—the tone and endearment achieved perhaps after a bottle of pinot noir. And he would pronounce the names Pa-táy-ros and Tágweeg, the way Americans do, and Eleanor would see little value in correcting him; her stepfather wouldn’t think it as significant as her properly stressing the first syllable of inventory, the second syllable of guitarist,and the third syllable of mountaineer. Her mother, in a voice as small as her frame, would pretend to consider the question and then simper, “Tágweeg,” as if she too shared his ruddy cheeks and pale skin. And maybe her mother could take the banter a little further: say, if there would be someone who would call for Eleanor, her mother could say, “May I put you on hold? Lenlen is in Pa-táy-ros,” tittering as she would hand her the phone. (Enlightened, her mother no longer told callers if she could please “hold” them.)


Holy moly!

Four months left on my self-imposed countdown to finish a set of stories.

I have, so far, only these:

  • Two stories I’m satisfied with–hurray for small mercies!
  • Another that’s 2/3 done and on its quintillionth iteration (no such word but there should be considering the sheer number of revisions this story has gone through)
  • The beginnings of a story on friendship and all the glitter that surrounds it
  • A story about going home, which is turning out to be an essay
  • An essay on a shipwreck off Palawan, which is really about why I dive even when I’m deathly afraid of water
  • An essay on face value, possibly my own
  • A half-essay on my father that had started as a blog post, which I’m not sure I’d want him to read

Oh, I’ve been remiss. I need to finish these and then write new ones. How can I in four months?

First, I have to stop perfecting my stories. I should just write. The poet William Stafford said, “Write to your lowest standard.” I should write and do the rewriting later.

Second, I have to do a little each day to fulfill this project. The days are long but the years are short. Each day toils on slowly, yet the year suddenly twists into another –ber month (it’s September in another day!), hitting us in the gut and leaving us gasping, Where did the time go?


Somewhere in the busyness that I call my day, there must be at least a half-hour I can carve out for writing. Maybe when my three-year-old is swallowed whole by Disney Junior. Or in the one minute it takes for the conditioner to work on my hair. Or maybe I just have to wake up a half-hour earlier than the rest of the world.

I just gotta.

Standing up

I was lost in my writing when my three-year-old barged into the room, asking me to play with her. My mind was still grappling with images, and it took a second for the frames in my mind’s eye to shift to and settle on the real world, where my daughter was already bearing down on the laptop.

I was sad to let my other-world go and felt guilty that I did (we mothers have an auto-guilt mode for whatever good or bad we do).

Then I remembered that my daughter fuels my writing. She gives me material. Playing with her is like priming the pump. So I stood up, remembering Henry David Thoreau’s words: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” Life is my material, and I have to go find more of it.

We writers are always writing: when we look at someone, we are more likely storing in our mind how the neon lights play against his pallid skin, blue and pink against his forearm, or how the corners of her mouth twitch when she lies.

Perhaps we look at life differently. Part of us often step back and catalog an event taking place. Our being “in the moment” is lived thrice: once, when it happens; twice, when remembered; thrice, when reduced to words.

Catherine Drinker Bowen shares the same thought, “Writing, I think, is not apart form living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.”

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