Penman No. 39: A Weekend of Bargains

Malakas at Maganda baybayinHIGH RESOLUTION (3)Penman for Monday, March 25, 2013

BEFORE ANYTHING else, let me put in a plug for a show that my wife Beng is curating on behalf of Kasibulan (Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan). Founded in 1989 by such stalwarts as Imelda Cajipe-Endaya, Brenda Fajardo, Ana Fer, Julie Lluch, and Ida Bugayong, Kasibulan has since gone on to engage a new generation of leading Filipino women artists. Those women—older and younger—have come together in a major exhibit titled “Malakas at Maganda,” a celebration of the power of female artistry. The show opened last Friday at the Executive House at the University of the Philippines, and will run for a month. I’ve seen it, and I can guarantee—especially to my fellow men—that it’s a marvelous eye-opener.


AS THE minders of an empty nest, Beng and I can be excused for being foolishly footloose—running off to unlikely destinations like Melaka and Ho Chi Minh City on budget tours, leaving our daughter Demi with little more than a clutch of leaky old fountain pens for an inheritance. But we’ve never forgotten the fun of finding even cheaper thrills right here at home. Indeed, for all the traveling we’ve done, Beng and I inevitably come to the same old conclusion: it’s more fun in the Philippines.

A couple of weekends ago—after both of us had slogged through a particularly tough week of work—we decided to blow the weekend off on our favorite pastime: shopping for ukay-ukay bargains. For many years now, the two of us have been shameless and ardent ukay-ukay and thrift-shop habitués, partly out of necessity but more, I’d say, for the sheer adrenaline rush of getting something for next to nothing. Now and then I need to put on a blazer for business, and two of my favorites—a Zegna and a Ferragamo, brands whose posh boutiques I’d never think of stepping into—were both Cubao ukay-ukay finds, for about P150 each. (And, of course, being the inveterate tourists that we are, we’ve carried the habit overseas, scoping out and revisiting our favorite resale shops in New York, Virginia, and San Diego. The highlight of my shopping year is our October jaunt to the flea markets of Manhattan—a treat I’m going to have to forgo this year, my semestral break already consumed as of this moment by other commitments.)

This time we had a special address on our weekend itinerary: the old Berg department store on the Escolta, where a group of young artists had organized a Saturday market. Beng spotted the notice on Facebook (she’s on it, I’m not) and it took little to convince me to go. I still remembered the Escolta of my youth, and how swanky it was back then. And they didn’t get much swankier than Berg, which was there before Rustan’s, before the malls, before eBay. (I have this recurrent dream of time-traveling to the past and walking into a store like Berg to the pens section, and, seeing row upon row of pristine Parker Vacumatics, picking out a blue and red Senior Maxima or maybe even a gold Imperial—the grandest of the ‘40s Parkers—and paying no more than P40 for each, a princely sum at the time.)

When we got there—from our parking spot in front of the iconic Savory Restaurant on Plaza Goiti—we saw that a crowd had begun to gather in the concrete cavern that was all that remained of the old store. Vendors—about 26 of them, I would later learn—had claimed their 2 x 2-meter squares on the bare floor and had laid out a cornucopia of books, clothes, shoes, trinkets, records, old bottles, cameras, bags, and other staples of the flea market trade.


The people behind the event were the members of 98B, a “collaboratory” of young progressive artists led by Mark Salvatus, one of the brightest new names in the contemporary art scene. We had a happy reunion with Mark, whom we had come to know purely by chance almost ten years ago when we strayed into the Salvatus home and folk-art shop in Lucban during one Pahiyas. He was just starting out then, and we were glad to see him again—in old Escolta, of all places. His collective thought of the Saturday market as a way of revitalizing Escolta, a shabby relic of its old stylish self. “We’d like to encourage local businesses to grow,” said Marika Constantino, another 98B member, “which is why we didn’t bring in any food concessionaires, so locals could set up food stalls outside.” Another familiar face we ran into at Berg was that of Jason Moss—for many years now, Beng’s personal favorite and mine, another brilliant artist whose rise we’d predicted and followed. “He’s one of our guiding spirits,” said Mark. We gathered that 98B would look into regularizing the Saturday market—a great idea, going by the inaugural turnout.

Since we were in the neighborhood, Beng and I then availed ourselves of the opportunity to enjoy a hearty lunch of machang and pancit at Polland in Binondo. We walked off all that starch in our stomachs by following Ongpin all the way to Avenida Rizal (passing by another culinary landmark, the Ramon Lee fried chicken place in Sta. Cruz). Benighted as it may have been by the LRT overhead, this avenue—another childhood paradise—still contains many treasures for the bargain hunter. (I remember when, back in the early 1990s, I picked up a trove of gorgeous vintage pens—sold as new old stock—from the shops on Avenida for 1960s prices.)

This time, we plunged into a succession of ukay-ukay stores—one turned up a smart herringbone Ralph Lauren blazer (P380)—culminating in the three-story Japan surplus shop that we had visited years earlier and were glad to see was still there. The usual racks of clothes occupied the first floor, but on the top floor—the houseware section—were all manner of china and cutlery. Beng pounced on the bowls and teacups, but I took away a lovely lacquered bento box (P180) that I would use for my ink bottles. The floor also yielded possibly the day’s best score: two good-as-new Japan-made titanium eyeglass frames (P200 each) that Beng and I are now wearing with prescription lenses.

As if Escolta wasn’t enough, we took to the road the next day for more good food and cheap fashion—in Tagaytay, which has some of the best roadside restaurants and ukay-ukay palaces in the country. I suppose we use one as an excuse for the other—the eating and the shopping—but no one really needs an excuse to spend a lazy Sunday in Tagaytay, a treat we shared with Beng’s mom Juliet and her caregiver Meann, and our driver Vic. Food took priority, and our great discovery of the day was an unassuming restaurant along the ridge (turn right at the junction) called Tootsie’s. We had never been before, and were taking a chance since the usual suspects (bulalo at Leslie’s for me) were full to the brim, but we got lucky. Much to my mom-in-law’s delight, Tootsie’s proved to be something of a Visayan oasis in the Tagalog heartland, offering such delights as kansi bulalo (P485, soured with Bacolod batwan) and sus kadyos (P335). The crispy daing na biya (P137) was a terrific appetizer, and the roast chicken kawi (P305)—described by Chef Ed Quimson as an “unexpected, unintended chicken concoction on the way to a busy day” was a big hit, with its subtly smoky flavor.

Then we were off for a quick run to the ukay-ukay shops near the junction—I came away with a linen Giordano blazer for P200, and Beng picked up a straw hat for herself, rubber sneakers for Meann, and a cap for Vic—before dessert of halo-halo, turon, and mais con hielo at Ming’s on the way home. I tried not to eat too much, mindful of the inevitable connection between food and fashion. (The most visible beneficiary of my recent weight-loss program has been my waist, which dropped from a salbabida-size 40 to a more manageable 34. I had to send all of my pants to the tailor for alteration, but that’s easier to do with pants than shirts and jackets, so it’s also given me a great excuse to refurbish my wardrobe—all, of course, in the ukay-ukay. For the first time in years, I’ve been able to wear shirts marked L—without the X or XX—or even M. And thank God I didn’t throw or give away my linen Ferragamo, whose buttons I could barely close; today there’s room to spare.)

And so a fun weekend was had by all for not too much; we would morph back into working stiffs come Monday, but as we patted our stomachs and surveyed our haul from our forays that Sunday evening, Beng and I could only look forward to that long and endless weekend upon retirement, to be spent in the city’s and the world’s finest junk shops and food stalls.


Penman No. 38: Why I Teach Creative Writing

English Class

Penman for Monday, March 18, 2013

LAST THURSDAY, I delivered the keynote speech at a conference of creative writing teachers held at the University of the Philippines, and this was part of what I told them:

I’m going to propose an idea that will probably sound like heresy today: I teach creative writing not to promote the science or the politics of literature, but to help enlighten the mind and ennoble the spirit. These are big words, but creative writing is a big thing. It has been a big thing for a very long time, and one might even argue that it got a lot smaller when it became an academic discipline, subject to the vagaries and vicissitudes of departmental politics, and the constant and sometimes annoying need to justify its existence to those who ask, with ill-concealed derision, “Can creative writing be taught?”

Let me humor that point for a minute. No one ever asks if music can be taught, or if ballet can be taught, or if painting can be taught—and yet, in all of these artistic endeavors, a mentor-mentee relationship has been the practice if not the rule for ages. It may be that writing is a more solitary act, and indeed, until the 20th century, was something self-taught, and people like Shakespeare and Nick Joaquin wrote without the benefit of a BACW or an MFA.

But most people aren’t Shakespeare and aren’t Nick Joaquin, and we’re no longer in the 17th or even the 20th century. Genius can take care of itself; most people can’t, particularly in a time when what are seen to be the more practical necessities of life militate strongly against a young person’s decision to choose a life of art. This, I believe, is the social function of artistic education today—the preservation and promotion of art as a vital human enterprise, alongside the sciences and the professions, without which society would fail, in the absence of the self-critical mirror that the artistic imagination provides.

Those of us who teach creative writing—or music, or dance, or painting, and so on—should fight to claim our space in academia, not because we need the jobs (which of course we do), but because society needs us for its own well-being, as nurturers of our people’s imagination. Like life itself, each work of art emerges from a synthesis of method and mystery, and sometimes the happiest and most wondrous results arise from what may seem to be accident and serendipity. But as a social project, the production of art cannot be left to chance.

This is particularly significant in the context of a country and a society like ours, whose people remain in dire need of a sense of nationhood—a sense that can only be artificially defined if not distorted by politicians, but more authentically apprehended by artists. The stories, poems, essays, and plays that our students write are this generation’s understanding of who and what we are, and this has been one of the key principles of my own teaching of creative writing: to help the student find not only himself or herself, but to find himself or herself in the community of others, in the life of the nation.

Thus, this semester in my graduate fiction class, I have asked my students to write about characters decidedly unlike themselves, to explore a milieu larger than their immediate and familiar surroundings. “Write about what you know” is what we often tell them, and that’s fine for starters; but I like to push this further and to suggest, as the title of one of my books says, that the knowing is in the writing, that they will never really know their subject until they’ve written all they could about it, until they’ve stood at the edge of the unknown and made that headlong freefall into the abyss of the human condition.

In this respect, allow me to make some observations about the state of the art as I see it in our students’ work. As a writer and a teacher of creative writing, I’ve been privileged to come across the work of some of our best young writers today—in my classes, in workshops, and in literary competitions—and to note their strengths and weaknesses.

The strengths are rather obvious to me—most notably, sharp and felicitous language. It always surprises me how—at a time when it’s become customary to deplore the deterioration of the language skills of our young people—new writers keep emerging who can use English with a mastery and confidence I didn’t have at their age. I suppose that comes from an earlier and more natural affinity with English, which many Filipino writers of this post-martial law generation not only write but think and speak in—at home, at school, at work, at play.

Another hallmark of our younger writers—not only in English but in Filipino and other Philippine languages as well—is their awareness and deployment of more contemporary literary theories that have done away with the stodgy realism of old, and value freshness of approach and cleverness of idea. They write in and from the margins, employ unusual points of view, play around with their use of time, and assume a variety of voices. They cross genres, mix languages, and generally don’t seem to care or worry too much about what other people might think of their work (except for readers of their own generation), and about whom they get published by.

That’s all well and good, but let’s go to the downside of things.

The most persistent shortcoming I’ve noticed in my students’ work is their inability or unwillingness to go beyond the safe and the familiar, to push the story to the farthest limits of its dramatic possibilities. They can take risks with treatment and technique, but in terms of the human drama at the core of the piece, they fall short. In other words, they’re great at writing scenes, sketches, and setups—vignettes that define a character or a situation—but, with a few outstanding exceptions, they won’t go over the edge and take us somewhere we’ve never been. They may be technically polished and even perfect, but they are immemorable and add little to our understanding of ourselves as Filipinos. They don’t connect to a larger audience beyond the university, making what we do seem even more esoteric and irrelevant to many. We often talk in these corridors about the need to popularize science, but what about the popularization of art?

Now, I’m not making a pedestrian demand for our art to be simple and accessible, or to be held to a standard of social relevance as the measure of excellence. I firmly believe that art is intrinsically elitist, even if its aims may not be. Whether among the most common folk or the most privileged, only a few possess the sensibility and the skill to create art.

All I’m asking for is for us to encourage our students to see writing not only as a means of self-expression but as a form of engagement with the larger human community—a love letter, as it were, to the world at large, perhaps full of pain and disappointment and yet remaining open to appeal and negotiation, if not reconciliation. This, I suppose, is what I meant by “enlightenment and ennoblement”—a recognition and admission of oneself, through art, as a human being, with all of its attendant privileges and responsibilities.

That’s the challenge you and I have to pose and, ourselves, to meet: to help produce not only great art, but great art that somehow matters. By “matters”, I don’t mean that it will foment a revolution the next day or the next year, but that it will, one way or another affirm and enrich our sense of humanity and community.

The fact is that very few of our students—counting even the CW majors—will go on to become writers for life. That’s all the more reason why their brief encounters with us should be memorable ones. No matter how poorly conceived or executed, a work sincerely presented for workshop by a student still represents an act of the imagination, which deserves respectful consideration. The best students will benefit the most, taking our admonitions to heart in the same way that I can still remember what my writing teachers told me. From Mrs. Vea, my English teacher in high school: “Good writing doesn’t depend on your mood.” From Franz Arcellana: “This is good, but it needs rounding out.” From my American professor Nick Delbanco: “Don’t forget the narrative line!” What have we told our students that they will remember 40 years hence?

I have always believed that every student has at least one good story, poem, or essay in him or her—and if we draw that out of them before they move on to become lawyers, engineers, and politicians, then we shall have done our duty. If we can inspire the best of them to consider taking the same breathless gamble we took in devoting ourselves to the life of words, then we shall have gone beyond performing our teacherly duties to helping secure the future of the Filipino imagination.

Flotsam & Jetsam No. 19: There’s a Snake in My Pocket

Agatha1SHE’S HERE—that obscure object of my ardent and longstanding desire, the Agatha Christie fountain pen from Montblanc. If you see me walking minus an arm and a leg, that’s what it cost me—but I’m deliriously happy. Here’s that red-eyed beast up close (yes, those eyes are real rubies):


Penman No. 37: The Rebirth of Joly Benitez

Jana and Joly

Penman for Monday, March 11, 2013

UNTIL VERY recently, the first and the only time I met Dr. Jose Conrado Benitez—better known to many by his nickname “Joly” (yes, with the single L)—was almost 40 years ago, when he visited and spoke to our class in Development Economics at the University of the Philippines.

I was working as a writer then for the National Economic and Development Authority, and my boss—the very supportive Gerry Sicat—had sent me, a college dropout, as a special student to UP to learn some economics quickly. I had been imprisoned under martial law and still carried my leftist sentiments with me, but there being few other options and being newly married, I decided to take my studies as seriously as I could.

There was something of a rivalry between NEDA on the one hand and the Ministry of Human Settlements and the Development Academy of the Philippines on the other, and Joly Benitez was associated with both latter agencies, so when the young Deputy Minister of the MHS came to our class, I can’t say that I was in a very welcoming mood, his ministry (and its chief, the First Lady Imelda Marcos) being seen then to be the source of some of the strangest ideas to have come out of martial law. Still, I was impressed by Benitez’s energy and enthusiasm, and while I remained a skeptic, I found myself opening up to the heretical notion that—with the right leadership and intentions—martial law was an unprecedented opportunity to get some things done right. (Of course, by and large, that didn’t happen, and I was out of NEDA in 1983 and on the street at EDSA in 1986.)

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, on February 21: that evening, a crowd began to gather at the newly established Erehwon Center for the Arts in Old Balara, Quezon City for the opening of “Apple by the Tree,” an exhibition of paintings by the father-and-daughter tandem of Joly and Jana Benitez. I had been invited to the opening by my old friend, kumpare, and Erehwon founder Raffy Benitez, a cousin of Joly. Perhaps ironically, Raffy and I had become friends in martial-law prison; when he later opened a printing press, Raffy drew on some unused paper stock and became the publisher of my first book, Oldtimer and Other Stories, in 1984. In other words, he’s a guy I can’t say no to, and when he invited me to the Benitez exhibit, despite having other plans for the evening, comradeship and curiosity prevailed, and I went.

I came in for a pleasant surprise. Joly’s daughter Jana was already an established New York-based painter, a magna cum laude Fine Arts graduate of Brown University with wide international exposure. Her work, noted the critic Alice Guillermo, “probed the secrets of both the abstract and the figurative, [creating] an art that is young, vital, integral to life and being.” I saw bold splashes of color in the abstract-expressionist style: you step back and translate form and color into thought and emotion.

Joly Benitez was the revelation. The Stanford-trained technocrat may be more at home with economics, but he stood his ground alongside Jana, working in the same style but mainly in black and white. What was even more remarkable was that, six months earlier, he had been close to death, with a debilitating kidney disease that required dialysis four times a week. “People were already calling me a widow,” said his wife, the banker Joanne de Asis. A timely transplant gave him a new lease on life—but it was the return from New York of Jana and their painting sessions that gave Joly a fresh reason to hang on.

Intrigued by this turnabout, I interviewed Joly—who was still visibly weakened by his ordeal but fit enough to climb four flights of stairs—and asked him about his new avocation. It turns out that painting wasn’t all that new to him.

“I had painted before,” he said, “from the time I was a high school teenager, hanging around and going to the PWU School of Fine Arts, after classes from La Salle high school. Even during my stint in government, I did some ten large canvases which I then displayed in the Technology Resource Center. At my home in Cubao, I hosted the Philippine Association of Printmakers, and we had weekly figure drawing sessions. I have painted in brief but intense spurts over various intervals for the last five decades. At this point of my life, I feel more confident and comfortable about displaying my paintings in public, and to continue to explore various modes of abstract self-expression.”

His new work is concerned with perspective, such as how one might see Earth from space. “Sometime ago, I did a series of over ten ‘Earth-scape’ prints and paintings, reflective of my preoccupation with ‘cosmic space’ abstract images.  The predominance of black and white in some of my paintings is the challenge of depicting movement, perspective, texture and expression with a highly and consciously limited palette,” he says.

Working with Jana was “intense and fruitful—a deep conversation in art. We talked continuously and began to appreciate our artistic differences. We sought to elevate our collaborative work to a different threshold. While painting, when she or I would perform brush strokes, or compositional elements, or color hues reflective of our differences, we would consciously attempt to integrate and reconcile them. We had our differences—but in art as in life, mutual respect and appreciation of each other’s idiosyncrasies and differences are paramount.”

After the Marcos years, Benitez served for over a decade as president of the family-owned Philippine Women’s University (his son Kiko now serves in that capacity), where he introduced various ladderized-curricular innovations, including pioneering programs for on-line distance education and continuing education.

The older Benitez is far more mellowed and subdued than the gung-ho guy I recall from the mid-1970s, but he retains a sharp critical edge. I asked him about his views on Philippine development today. “We are highly dependent on the remittances of our OFWs, we don’t have significant industries or manufacturing, our agriculture is in need of major structural changes, and our service sector relies heavily on call centers for employment,” he observes. “We still have to see a national eco-sustainable development strategy that addresses a basic needs approach, with structural changes reflected in locational and spatial dimensions.”

As the architect of many of the Marcoses’ social infrastructure programs, Benitez sees some evidence of a useful legacy left behind from his tenure at the MHS: “Some of our initiatives remain as relevant as ever. They include the establishment and organization of a mass housing system, involving a financial saving system (PAGIBIG), the Home Guaranty Corporation (HGC), the National Home Mortgage Finance Corporation, (NHMFC), and so on, although one would wish that the various housing agencies would operate like a symphony rather than competing and sometimes working at cross-purposes. We also made efforts to promote small- and medium-scale industries, especially focusing on livelihood projects, entrepreneurship, adaptive technology and countryside community organization and development. We sought to introduce a locational and spatial dimension in national, regional, and provincial comprehensive development plans—through the national and regional framework plans, the preparation of provincial atlases and municipal level town plans, and zoning ordinances. We used to say that ‘True structural development should have a face and an address.’ An abstract strategy or a mere compilation of various infrastructure projects do not make for national development.”

At this point of his extended life, Joly Benitez says he’d like “to focus on a few income-generating projects for myself and my family, but most of all I would like to explore and pioneer some ecologically sustainable projects, especially on village level.”

And, of course, produce more art, by himself or alongside Jana. The historians, political scientists, and Filipinos on the street will have their own assessment of the Marcos years and of the role that Jose Conrado Benitez played in it—and I suspect he will not be hopeful enough to imagine that that assessment, given what has happened since, will be largely benign—but the rebirth and refuge offered by art can only sustain this complex man.

Penman No. 36: Literary Networking


Penman for Monday, March 4, 2013

AT THE recent Taboan Philippine Writers Festival held in Dumaguete last month, I sat on a panel devoted to the topic of “Literary Networking,” which deals with how writers come into contact with one another and with other people in the profession—publishers, editors, agents, and, of course, readers, teachers, and critics—to improve and to promote their writing.

In my column two weeks ago, I noted how writing can be one of the loneliest if not most thankless endeavors anyone can undertake, especially in a country where writing is considered to be little more than a hobby. Networking helps reduce that sense of isolation and creates communities of writers and other literary professionals who are all looking for that same one thing: the next great read. So today I’m going to list down some of the most effective ways of literary networking, hoping that our writers, especially the young ones, can avail themselves of these venues to extend their reach.

School. As every high school graduate knows, friendships forged in school tend to be stronger and last for life. The university is where most writers decide to become writers and find that they’re not alone in their love of words. The bonds that lead to what some critics would call “cliques” and “cabals” start naturally in school, and may even be formalized in groupings such as the famous pre-war Veronicans and post-war Ravens at the University of the Philippines. Today, literary organizations such as the UP Writers Club, the Thomasian Writers Guild, and the DLSU Writers Guild keep the flame alive on Philippine campuses. MFA programs, especially those abroad, can create larger networks, although the atmosphere in these programs tends to be more competitive.

Workshops. Related but not limited to school, workshops bring young and new writers together in what amounts to a combination of boot camp and support group. The idea behind a writers’ workshop is that collective wisdom can improve individual talent, and like most adages, this may be generally but not always true. For writers needing company and affirmation, workshops can feel like a refuge, if not a narcotic—and indeed some go workshop-hopping. For Filipino writers, entry-level and local or regional workshops and mid-career and national workshops exist—a strength unique within the region.

Conferences and festivals. They may run only a few days, but they can be intense and can connect a writer to the big stars and luminaries of literature. I’ve been able to meet Nobel laureates and Pulitzer and Booker prizewinners in these events, and while such contacts may be fleeting—I have no illusions about these worthies remembering me the day after—they can be tremendously inspiring to newer writers, and also demystify the literary gods and make one feel a fundamental commonality with others around the world. Conferences and festivals also have much more value beyond elbow-rubbing and camaraderie—they are a great source of new ideas, particularly in areas that are relatively new to us Filipinos—literary editing and literary agencies, for example.

Fellowships and residencies. Fellowships and residencies involve applying for and securing grants to places that allow writers the opportunity to work in productive seclusion for periods ranging from a few weeks to a year. For many years now, Filipino writers have successfully applied for some of the world’s most prestigious fellowships and residencies—in Iowa, Breadloaf, Macdowell, Stanford (the Wallace Stegner fellowship), and Yaddo in the United States, and Hawthornden, Bellagio, Norwich (the David TK Wong fellowship), Bogliasco, Chateau de Lavigny, and Civitella Ranieri in Europe. While isolation is part of the idea, one is never entirely alone in these places, and strong friendships and professional connections will inevitably arise between fellows.

Prizes and competitions. By their very nature, prizes and competitions tend to divide rather than unite people, but writers at their best will recognize and admire talent in the other, and so these venues also become fertile ground for networking. They also bring other important elements into the picture—agents, publishers, and critics, who take note of the winners and help them on with their careers. In this regard, I’m happy to acknowledge the fact that my being shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize some years ago was probably the most significant single boost for my literary career. I didn’t win the prize, but the publicity helped me find an agent (or, actually, he found me) who then secured Italian, French, American, and Spanish translations and editions for my two novels. I also developed very fruitful contacts around the region, particularly with my fellow short-listee, the Chinese-Indonesian-American writer Xu Xi, who now directs the low-residency MFA program at the City University of Hong Kong.

Social media. In this age of Facebook and Yahoogroups, can writers possibly resist the urge to network online? The Internet is chock full of writers’ groups and mailing lists (see, for example) that allow anyone with writing aspirations to sign up.

Of course—as I’ve often been reminded—networking of any kind has its downsides. It can become intrusive (which is why I’ve obstinately refused to get on Facebook), and just as in other spheres of our lives, not everyone you meet will be friendly and benign. Some writers can be the most obnoxiously difficult people to deal with, and quite a few are better read than met. That said, it’s almost always good to hear another human voice in the wilderness, and you can’t get more human than a writer using language to explore and to prove what it means to be human.


LAST WEEK’S piece on radio provoked this lively response from a faithful correspondent, the lawyer Rem Maclang:

“Pardon me, Butch, but we never ‘return’ to radio—every now and then, we turn to it.  Even with the advent of IT, which has engulfed our daily life with a variety of novel communication gadgets long after the radio became our can’t-be-without home companion, it has never left the scene. Radio’s exalted role in the annals of our country cannot be taken for granted. It was through radio that the grim and sad but inspiring Voice of Freedom broadcast about the Fall of Bataan was heard worldwide, and [radio that announced] the return of MacArthur. EDSA 1 could not have happened within the short span of four days had it not been for radio that broadcast the announcements of Cardinal Sin and June Keithley. Radio was responsible in making our growing-up years a whole lot more enjoyable while being informative. If TV is the idiot’s box, radio is the dreamer’s delight.”