All About Me” is the title of a short story by Elsa Victoria Martinez, now Coscoluella, which won an award at the Palanca Prize for the Short Story in the 1960s. It is about a young woman, lost and adrift like many young people then and now, about what the future holds.
I get messages from people asking where am I now, and where am I going? Now, that sounds again like a title of a short story, this time by Raymond Carver, the master of the pithy short fiction that Americans wrote in the 1990s. I am here in Manila, for how long I don’t really know.
I just finished teaching The Literature of Europe to English Literature students at San Beda University, for which I will mark the final exams tomorrow. Next week, we will start the next cycle of the first semester, and I’ve been assigned to teach two subjects: Philippine Popular Culture and The Literature of Asia.
I’ve unearthed the texts I will use from the attic, where thousands of books are stored. I’ve also listed the chronology of the texts, and am just hoping that my Catholic students won’t be too shocked after reading “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” by Yukio Mishima.
Since we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, I’ve chosen short novels for them to read. For The Literature of Europe, we read “The Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka and the unsinkable “The Outsider,” by Albert Camus, whose British edition carries the appropriate title of “The Stranger.”
Trust the British to know their words down pat. On my own, I am currently reading “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, after teaching a slew of British novels last summer in my last stint at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia. The British write with a graceful turn of phrase; they know the meanings of words deep inside. Their language is fluid. So I’ve lined up the other British novelists I will read, among them James Hamilton-Paterson, who has lived in the Philippines and wrote beautiful books about his stay in the country.
With some friends, I also recently established a publishing company called Aries Books. The insight that came upon me during the pandemic is that online is really the way to go. Physically, we could not transport the books to the bookstores because the warehouses were closed. But the online versions would be easily sent to buyers and readers around the world. That is why we started Aries Books, and the first project is “The Heart of Summer,” my book of stories which we started selling this week. The next is my selected poems. Then, we got the e-book rights to Lualhati Bautista’s book of short stories, “Buwan, Buwan, Hulugan Mo Ako ng Sundang: Dalawang Dekada ng Maiikling Kwento.” I’m happy that she entrusted it to us.
Aside from that, I’m also writing my next novel. I was writing a novel on King Arthur set in the 21st century but I threw it away; it was so ugly. Then, I thought of my life in the US. And why not continue the life of Danilo Cruz, the main character in my first novel, Riverrun, and set it in the US? Many things happened to me in the US and I haven’t written about it. The next novel, a continuation of “Riverrun,” is set in New York where the main character is studying and working.
I think it will be a funnier novel, less literary, and more like a romantic page-turner. When I lived in New Jersey and New York City 20 years ago, I was like, “This is so strange.” I felt like Alice sliding down that rabbit hole and entering, as they say in Disney, a whole new world. But I liked it. My second novel will still be a gay romance but it will also deal with racism and immigration but handled in an entertaining manner.
I’ve done a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline of the novel and I’ve written 100 pages. If I can find the time to write it, I will finish it. Maybe in December. I’m trying to write, despite the slow internet in the country and the people’s many demands on my time.
I’ve also been reviewing Boys’ Love shows on my Danton Remoto YouTube channel. I love some of these BL shows. I lived in Thailand briefly. The context of Thailand is a Buddhist culture. It’s not as judgmental as our Catholic culture, so there’s more leeway and space for them. But, except in the last 10 years, the only accepted gays in Thailand were the katoey. The katoey is the bakla in the Philippines: the beauty-parlor gays, the impersonators, the entertainers. People like Kao in “The Dark Blue Kiss” couldn’t come out. If I may say so, these BLs help me contextualize my New York novel in terms of the pacing and dialogue. The thrill and romantic factors in these shows are spaced out evenly.
What these BLs have done in the last three years in Southeast Asia is to open discussions about homosexuality beyond stereotypes. Gone are the swishy characters who are brainless, those stereotyped gays who are objects of fun. Now, we have young intelligent men. But of course, they focus on straight-acting men. That’s why it’s really a fantasy. But fantasy has a role in everyday life. These BL shows have helped a lot of people during the pandemic. It’s really a crushing reality that you cannot leave the house; you cannot leave the country.
Aside from teaching and writing my novel, I still do online tutorials in Creative Writing. I also just finished translating into Filipino the poems in English of Quintin Jose Pastrana done in the traditional ambahan style of Mindoro. The Far Eastern University Press will publish this book before December turns. And, yes, I also edited the manuscript of someone who might run for president in the May 2022 elections.
Now that is another matter that looms large in the Filipino imagination, given the impending loss of The President with the Orange Hair.
Published in my column, “Lodestar,” at the Philippine STAR. 7 November 2020.