Thursday, July 21, 2005

[Blog Entry] Not-so-Random Links

Not-so-Random Links

Wizards of the Coast Book Submissions FAQ

Movie Inspired by Coraline

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[Blog Entry] It’s A Geek’s Life

It’s A Geek’s Life

I haven’t been able to do much for the past couple of days. At least one that entails reading, writing, transcribing, or just plain going out. Had two straight RPG sessions last Wednesday and Thursday evening right after work and unfortunately, that leaves me little time for anything else (including sleep).

I mean I work at 9 am – 6 pm, go to my friend’s house where we have our pen-and-paper RPG sessions, and come home at 3 or 4 am the next day. Do the math. Sure, I have no social life. But life right now feels like a med student cramming for his board exams, or a socialite partying all day.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

[Blog Entry] Beholden to the Gods of Chance, Meeting an Artist

Beholden to the Gods of Chance

When something strange or extraordinary happens, people usually do one of two things: they either ignore it, thinking that they were just lucky (or unlucky, as the case may be), or perceive it as providence and destiny, that there’s a greater purpose in it. As for me, I’ve been surrounded by “coincidental” events all my life that it’s normal. Sure, God might have a plan for me, but as far as I’m concerned, the coincidental, one-in-a-million chances are well, not so uncommon.

Take for example the story I always tell Elbert’s acquaintances. I once had a stalker who kept bugging me on my mobile phone. I was ranting about this to Elbert, and he told me that he wished he had a stalker of his own. During the weekend, he sent the same text message to three different people, because he was looking for his friend who had changed phone numbers. Unfortunately, he forgot to ask which phone company his friend was subscribed to, so he sent the text message to both the SMART (0919 and 0920) and Globe (0917) numbers. To make a long story short, one of those numbers was indeed his friend. Another was a complete stranger who ignored him. The last one was my stalker, who started bugging him instead of me. Be careful what you wish for huh?

Just the other week, I was at my friend’s house, eager to play a game of Legend of the Five Rings. His sister, my batchmate, was also there, and she was narrating at how she bought her brother a necktie for P1000 as a birthday gift. She then hinted to me that her birthday was fast approaching, and that I could give her a birthday present. Me being the person who secretly falls in love with almost every girl he meets, couldn’t decline. There’s a reason why I have a big bag, and it’s strange what you could find in there. One of the things I pulled out was a gift check from Bench, and handed it to her. Surprisingly enough, the gift check was the same amount as it cost her to purchase the tie. She then told me that coincidentally, the tie she bought for her brother was in Bench, and the date the gift check was issued was on her brother’s birthday. Of course personally, I just pulled out the gift check randomly. I was like a magician pulling something out of his hat; I didn’t know it was a rabbit.

Well, there’s always last Saturday’s game where my seatmate rolled four 1’s straight in a row on a d20 (that’s a twenty-sided dice, so the chance of rolling a 1 is 5%; I’m sure you can do the math on the percentage of rolling four 1’s straight in a row).

Meeting an Artist

I tend to use the term artist loosely. I mean in the industry I work for, that’s usually attributed to the singers, the people who belong in bands and the like. Personally, I also use it to refer to those with an artistic inclination, whether it’s painting, sculpture, graphic design, and the like.

Yesterday, I got to meet Rom Villaserran (if the name sounds familiar, he’s done several wonderful paintings… oh and he’s the winner of the Neil Gaiman art contest), a talented artist in his thirties. His house was simple, and we were sitting outside where there was a table and everyone except me was smoking and drinking beer. A lot of work-related discussions revolves around alcohol. And he has a Dalmatian roaming around as well.

His workplace is his home, which in turn was bequeathed to him by his mother since his siblings had married and all moved out. It also saves him money when it comes to expenses, since he doesn’t need to travel far. Sitting outside, I could already see the various paintings he had. It was only later that I also noticed his sculptures, which were strewn over the floor.

Rom narrates at how his other works are scattered around, and how he has little at home. In a few years, he plans to migrate to some place like Singapore, where the place is quieter, safer, and more disciplined. Later on, my boss finally arrives and convinces Rom that the secret is not in migrating abroad, but rather remaining here and selling it abroad, since living expenses will make it just as costly.

An artist’s life is never easy, more so perhaps living in a country such as ours. While perhaps it’s a boon that he works at home, a disadvantage it has is that it kills his social life. He doesn’t go out as much since there’s much work to be done, and since his work is his home, there’s really no reason for him to go out. Whether it’s Sunday or Friday doesn’t matter; it’s all the same to him. What only matters are the numbers, because they’re deadlines. Aside from that, it’s a timeless week. Perhaps another factor that makes it hard for artists to make a living are the art galleries. In the US, galleries split the profits 50/50 with the artist, and if a patron asks for a discount, it comes from the gallery’s share. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.

Meeting Rom has this surreal feel. Despite being a veteran, Rom manages to maintain his youthfulness and enthusiasm. One of the common expressions I see him doing is clenching his fist, giving an fervent cry, and then laughing. His girlfriend also dropped by, she being a sculptor herself and will be soon graduating with a degree in Fine Arts. And then there’s Rom’s dog, who basically has free reign over the house.

The pair was hospitable, and they share at how they don’t have visitors often. Rom works on his paintings, while his girlfriend works on her sculptures. Over beer and cigarettes, my boss and Rom seem like best buds, chatting about life and work, and of wonderful places to visit.

I wish I could have stayed and chatted more, but unfortunately, the smoke was killing me, and I had to wake up the next day for work. They tell me that the night is young and that tomorrow is still tomorrow, so I should enjoy myself now. Perhaps beer is indeed where artists get their inspiration.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

[Blog Entry] Of Gaiman in Manila

Of Gaiman in Manila

Last week, I had a choice of either blogging or transcribing Neil Gaiman’s various interviews (at least those I could get a hold of). I chose the latter, and it came at the expense of my writing (well, at least I did get my fifteen minutes of fame…). One week later, with a cooler head and hopefully more free time (*sigh* more transcribing to be done when I get home but thanks to Astrid who’s put up the entire NU107 interview), I can finally narrate events from my point of view.

On A Whim

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. While I am a fan of Gaiman, I’m not the uber-fan who thinks he’s god (well, I’m not attached to any specific author). Much like what Elbert was feeling during the week, I didn’t really know if I wanted to go to Rockwell or not.

I’ll be honest. It was a pleasure seeing Neil up on stage, reading excerpts from Anansi Boys and greeting the fans. That wasn’t my motivation in popping up at the Rockwell Tent though. It was meeting friends, both old and new. And boy did I see lots of familiar faces during the event.

Of Posers and Frauds

Yes, there are posers everywhere. I’ve seen the term used often by rock-and-roll fans. Holden Caulfield thinks that everyone is a phony. And it surprises me that many Gaiman fans use the term, a kind of elitist way of defining themselves as if saying “Hey, I read Sandman when it first came out in the 80’s. You’re just getting into it now because it’s popular,” or “Hey, I got all his works; you just have that paltry novel which you bought because you thought the cover was cool. Well, I know about Gaima and I’m his biggest fan!” A lot of people will be angry for me saying this, but that’s so anti-Gaiman-ish.

I mean Neil Gaiman himself thanks the crowd, acknowledging the fact that he wouldn’t be as popular if people didn’t love the stories he wrote. Should a fan’s worth be measured when he started reading Gaiman? Sure, those who started earlier have an advantage, but that is by no means an excuse to treat other fans as inferiors. Or perhaps you’re a die-hard Gaiman fanatic, one who’s bought all his graphic novels and books. You think you’re the real thing, and one of the masses who buys a Gaiman paperback is merely a poser, one that purchases the book not because he or she thinks that Gaiman is great, but it’s an interesting novel. Hey, guess what, it’s all about the stories. What made people fall in love with Neil? While he does have a charming personality, many fans fell in love with him because the stories he told, be it via Sandman, Neverwhere, Stardust, or American Gods. Whether you’ve read one of his works or a dozen, if they took the time to go all the way to the Rockwell Tent to welcome him to the Philippines, then they’re fans. There’s no posing or faking about that. Everyone who went there knew how long the line was, how crowded it was, and how hot it was. Taking the time to go there and staying there took effort.

One of my friends told me that he was surprised to see such a huge crowd. “I expected only the older people to know about him, since back in the 80’s, no one really knew about him except us,” to paraphrase what he said. And that’s true. Two decades ago, Neil Gaiman belonged to a cabal of comic fans. Nowadays, he’s a best-selling author who’s come up with a lot of works be it film, comics, children’s books, novels, and short stories. Which goes to show that he’s hit mainstream consciousness. And that means a lot of his fans are the masses. So don’t go “They’re just posers or Gaiman frauds.” Part of Neil’s current success is the fact that the masses love him. Perhaps it’s not as “pure” as you think yours is, but they’re fans nonetheless.

Writer’s Forum

While I was doubting whether I’d show up on Saturday at the Rockwell Tent or not, there was no chance I was missing out at the Writer’s Forum! I mean I was going to hear the man speak and talk about, well, writing (be it comics or prose). And I get paid to do it (one of the perks working at Pulp and MTV Ink). Seeing lots of familiar faces (including friends, acquaintances, and even former professors) was just icing.

Me and now editor-in-chief of MTV Ink Conch arrived early at the Music Museum. It was 12 pm and the talk wouldn’t start until an hour and a half later. Unlike the book signings, the line wasn’t long. In fact, we were in front. Well, next to Gerry Alanguilan and his lovely wife. Gerry told me stories about his previous exploits, about how he had Neil sign his favorite comic, and even got an unexpected signature for Miracle Man.

I would have wanted to chat more but we soon realized that between me and Conch, we only had one pass, and that the other one was left at our office in Ortigas. You never let a pretty girl walk several kilometers so I volunteered (before she could object) to go get the pass. It was a 45-minute roundtrip journey, and thankfully, we came in early or we might not have gotten good seats.

The place was less crowded, but there were no shortages of familiar faces. I wanted to talk to them, but alas, Neil came first. When he finally came up on stage to speak, well, he got our attention. People were hesitant at first to ask questions, which is why Ramon and Ani, the hosts, opened up with some queries. After the initial barrage, the audience felt more confident and soon, the lines at each microphone were long. And if anything, Neil gives long answers. Which is a good thing, because he can turn even the most simple (or suboptimal) question into an astounding reply. Honestly, some of the questions people asked wouldn’t be the questions I would have asked. Or sometimes, they were too “geeky” (hey, I’m a geek myself… I actually understood the comic references thanks to being friends with the likes of Elbert, but honestly, I wish the questions were 50/50 comics and books rather than something like 80/20 comics and books). But as I said, Gaiman’s great at answering so there’s a lot of information and insight he shared with us. He knows when to elaborate, and what to elaborate on (honestly, the one time you shouldn’t be shy is when you’re being interviewed, or being asked questions in public… thankfully Gaiman did neither, nor do I think he’s a shy person to begin with).

There were lots of unasked questions but Neil had to leave. Various personalities were being interviewed outside and I found it strange that they were concentrating on comics (which isn’t bad, mind you, but Neil does novels as well; of course I also wouldn’t have it that people merely focus on the novel-writing part and ignore the comics).

Praise of an Unsung Hero

It also surprises me that some people missed out on an unsung Gaiman hero. People were mentioning newspaper articles and interviews everywhere (and the likes of Luis, Ruey, and Quark did a good job, mind you) but they seemed to have missed out on my friend Erwin Romulo (to be honest, I met Erwin through my current job, and I’m thankful for that). He has a regular column every Friday at the Young Star section (which I read as I scan through the periodicals daily because it’s necessary for work) and the week before the Writer’s Forum, he was already asking people to forward him questions to ask Neil Gaiman.

And so Erwin did an article regarding Gaiman’s stay last Friday, but no one seems to be promoting it. Which is sad, because he did get an interview and has some enjoyable anecdotes. He even got to ask a question which Gaiman replied “You never ask that question of a writer,” (again, I’m paraphrasing because the periodical isn’t with me right now), and that was a question by the lone person who actually emailed Erwin her question.

So if you still have a chance, get a copy of last Friday’s The Philippine Star, and read Erwin’s column. The same goes for the much publicized last Wednesday’s edition of the Manila Bullein, and The Philippine Inquirer with Ruey’s interview.

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[Blog Entry] A Broken Promise, Gaining Weight

A Broken Promise

One of the things I swore to myself that I wouldn’t do was to keep out of touch with my friends. Yet here I am, a year after graduation, too busy to concern myself with other people.

It’s easy to blame it on other people. “They didn’t call,” or “I haven’t seen them.” Is perhaps one of the excuses that comes to mind. While it’s true they are party responsible, there also comes a point when you’re to blame as well. If I dial up their phone number and they don’t pick up, bully for them. If I never dial their phone number, I’ll never know if the other end will pick it up or not. Call Center Culture (my term for the thousands of middle-class to upper-class people who find employment in call centers) might make it difficult to keep in touch with people (since they’re asleep during daytime and out at work during the evening), but for me, that’s just another excuse, especially with all the technology at our disposal, be it mobile phones or email.

Isolation doesn’t help either. The easiest thing you can say to yourself is that I’m busy. Or it’s opposite, yet equally compelling reason, I’m lazy. Something always gets in the way. Or there’ll always be other, more lucrative things to do with your time. Which is why I now pause and think. For me, my friends were once my priority. Now… it’s obviously something else.

I ran into one of my blockmates the other day. She’s not exactly one of the blockmates I cherish the most, but a blockmate nonetheless. One doesn’t need a long chat to know that things have changed. In the span of two minutes and a question or two, you can learn a lot about a person. The question I often ask is where do you work now. Apparently, she’s now working for Summit Media. Which brings the tally now of five Creative Writing majors (in a class of nine) working in a magazine in one way or another.

Gaining Weight

For the first time, people I see are telling me that I’m gaining weight. Two years ago, Benj told me that once I’d start working, I’d be gaining weight (and I’ve seen lots of people use this reasoning as well… but honestly, I don’t get it. Should I be gaining more weight because I’m more stressed out? That I’ll use food as a means for comfort? That I’ll have more money to spend on food?). I don’t think that’s the reason though. My short stint as a call center agent disproves that theory. Rather, I attribute it to all the vitamins I’m taking now (which I previously haven’t been taking), my regular bowel movement (due to the fact that I’m taking vitamins… my record for not going to the rest room to crap is one week), and my new addiction for soya milk. It’s not like I’m eating more; I’m still taking the same amount of food. It’s not my diet either; I’m still eating the same kinds of food. And it’s not all the exercise (or lack of it) either; I’m still waking the same distances every day.

So what’s the final record? I’m still underweight, but 15 pounds underweight rather than 20. Hopefully I’ll reach three digits by the end of the year.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

[Blog Entry] Where Have All the Good Barbershops Gone?, Harry Potter Madness

Where Have All The Good Barbershops Gone?

One of my friends recently asked when I last had a haircut. A valid question, considering my hair was covering my eyes, and was past my shoulder. It wasn’t like I was styling it for a ponytail or something. If truth be told, I don’t remember when I last had a haircut. All I could reply to him was that my last haircut was when Virra Mall was still open. It’s been that long, and can be partially attributed to the fact that time is such a precious commodity as of late (it happens where you happen to work six days a week).

It wasn’t always like this though. Since I studied in a private school, there were strict haircut requirements for the students. When I was a kid, I’d have my haircut in the same parlor my mom went to for her manicure and the like. I got a basic haircut (that is, the style never changed, and all they did was trim it down) although since it was a parlor, was more expensive than if I had a haircut elsewhere. But since mom was paying, I didn’t mind.

And then later in high school, I had to look for an actual barbershop. CAT (the pre-college military training required of every high school student in the Philippines before he or she graduates, the product of a government that had only gained its independence in the past century or so) required me to have a specific style (2x3 haircut) which was not available in the place I was going to (or rather, I was unaware of it). Since I was lurking in the hidden corners of Virra Mall at the time, the place I went to was a barbershop there aptly named “Pagupitan”.

“Gupit” is the Filipino word for cut. “Pagupitan” literally means a place that cuts, but a modern translation of it is barbershop. For the place to name itself “Pagupitan” is like a barbershop calling itself Barbershop. It’s an interesting conversation piece, to say the least. I mean once, my uncle asked me where I had my haircut. I told him in Pagupitan. Understanding it not to be a proper noun, he asked me again. And again. Until I emphasized the point that the name of the place was indeed Pagupitan and not just a description of the place where I had my haircut.

Pagupitan perhaps isn’t the most luxurious of babershops. In fact, it’s the opposite. In a mall that has all the modern conveniences of air conditioning and the latest technology (well, pirated technology but the latest nonetheless), Pagupitan harkened more to the era of its own. It had wooden floors and boards, relied on electric fans for ventilation, and was run by aged barbers, all wearing barongs (a Filipino suit made from Pineapple) and were either nearly bald or had gray hair (and a number had those big, black old fashioned glasses). Despite their age, they were competent at what they did though. They’d somehow mastered the art of multitasking, talking about politics, smoking a cigarette, reading the newspaper, and the while providing their clients with a massage, haircut, and shampoo.

To be honest, one of the reasons I went there was because the place was cheap. Perhaps not the cheapest barbershop in Metro Manila, but certainly the cheapest one in the immediate vicinity. That didn’t stop me from tipping though. One of the things I was taught early on was to tip whoever did my hair. Previously, my mom would give me ten or twenty-peso bills to pay the barber along with the fee for my haircut. Nowadays, it comes from my own pocket. It’s not that I’m afraid that they’ll be tempted to cut my ear off or something, but rather it’s a habit. Having a haircut without tipping seems rude.

A haircut is a personal matter though. In my experience, only one barber does your hair (whether it was at the barbershop or at the parlor I used to go to). If you went into the barbershop and your barber was preoccupied with a client, you waited. Similarly, it was a good idea to know when they had their days off. You don’t want to come out of a barbershop empty handed. Upon entering Pagupitan, the receptionist would know who did my hair. She’d call him and lead me to his seat.

The relationship between a client and a barber is an intimate one. Some people talk with their barbers, even going as far as confiding in them. I merely sit in my seat quietly, and wait for him to do his job. There’s a lot of trust involved between the two. I mean as a client, there’s no guarantee that I’ll go ask for the same barber, much less go back to the same barbershop the next time I need a haircut. On the part of the barber, he doesn’t know when you’re coming back. Haircuts usually have long gaps in between. For me, it’s somewhere between two to six months. In between that time, there’s as huge suspense whether I’ll be coming back or not. Yet when I do go back, they know who I am, know what kind of hairstyle I want, and usher me into my regular routine.

When I have a haircut, I usually have a light sleep. That’s because I trust my barber. I don’t come out of the barbershop with a surprised look in my face. One of my handicaps is the fact that I take off my glasses whenever I have a haircut. That mean when the barber asks me if he did a good job, I can’t give an honest evaluation, because I can’t see myself in the mirror. I merely nod or grunt. It’s only later on that I realize whether he did a good job or not. But since I have a regular barber, everything is predictable. There are no surprises. If he does something unusual, I know where’s a reason for it. Which is why I can relax, take a quick nap, and sit there comfortably.

On the rare occasion that I have to come back, there’s usually quality assurance. I mean in the parlor of my mom, I once went there twice in the span of two weeks. When I had my second haircut (because the first did not meet the standards of the school), I did not have to pay for it. That’s quality assurance for you. They want to satisfy their customers. And perhaps the fact that the art of cutting hair is not about the hair, but about the relationship one forges between barber and client.

Harry Potter Madness

Yesterday, the sixth book in the Harry Potter series just got released. Nearly every bookstore had some sort of party to celebrate (and gain customers).

When book five was released, I was one of the people who lined up at Powerbooks as early as 7 am to get a copy of the book. The avid fan that I was, I was paranoid that there wouldn’t be enough copies to satiate the entire nation, and that there would be fans who would be deprived of the latest book. I wasn’t going to be one of them.

Interestingly enough, I also saw in the same branch Vin, manager of Comic Quest in Mega Mall. He didn’t know who I was back then, but I knew who he was (just as any good stalker should be able to do). He was obviously sleepy and his eyes were a bit red, while all he was wearing were shorts and sandals. I suspected that he lived nearby which is why he was daring enough to come out dressed like that in public. We shared one thing in common though: we were both Harry Potter fans.

Which is why a few months later, when we went to the Bookfair together and saw that the prices of the hardcover had been slashes, there was a part of us that had been hurt. We were waiting in line a few months back, waiting in anticipation for the latest novel. Apparently, the bookstores overstocked, and were in competition with each other. That and the fact that book six and book seven weren’t out yet.

So when I met with Vin last Friday and talked about how Harry Potter 6 was going to be released this weekend, neither of us were in a rush to get our copies. If there’s anything the Harry Potter novels have taught us, it’s patience. There’s still, after all, one more book in the series before it all ends. We can wait.

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