Of Movies and the Books that inspire them

I got to thinking about books and movies after publishing my post on The Hunger Games. There are books where you feel, as you read them, that, as he or she was writing the book, the author was (consciously or subconsciously, I can’t know), writing a screenplay. Like he or she was writing with the ultimate objective that the book be produced for the big screen (or for HBO). That’s exactly what The Hunger Games did for me. As I expressed to a friend, I can imagine that the storyline, coupled with its potential to be a production design and cinematographic spectacle, would have loads of entertainment value on the big screen. A few other books, where I feel the author was writing for the big screen, come to mind: the Twilight series, The Devil Wears Prada (I mean, you’ve just got to get them designer clothes out there for people to actually see), The Lovely Bones (I imagine Alice Sebold’s heaven as delicious to recreate on the big screen), the works of John Grisham, and most Jodi Picoult novels (I picked up “The Litigators” and “My Sister’s Keeper” on separate occasions recently. Both Grisham’s and Picoult’s works are always quick reads. And good entertainment for the nonce). Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven evoked the same feelings (which leads me to assume his other books would as well, assuming they were fashioned from the same “formula” which has reaped him much success; and quite a few movie adaptations). As do the novels of Stephen King (“It” was a longtime favorite of mine). I was hitherto fairly convinced, you see, that there are very few movies that live up to the books they were based on. But in each of the books I mention above, the movie exceeded my expectations and, hence, bested the book (with the exception probably of Stephen King’s “It”; I liked the book a lot more. But that’s probably true for all books of the horror genre. Think Salem’s Lot, late at night, reading by the light of a lamp, and shiver!) “My Sister’s Keeper”, which I picked up because I was curious as to how the moral issue posed by the book was going to be resolved, for example. The book’s ending was disappointing; not so the movie version’s. There are also books I enjoyed thoroughly and the movies that were eventually spawned from them were also quite pleasant rides and, hence, met my expectations (spectacle and all). The Harry Potter series is one such. The classics The Little Prince, The Lord of the Flies, and The Lord of the Rings series fall into this same category. (I never imagined I would see Tolkien’s masterpieces come to life in movies. Never. And never in so grand a manner. I loved both the books and the movies.) I was also hooked on The Game of Thrones series on HBO, as I was hooked on the 5 novels that make up the Song of Ice and Fire series. I have a short list of novels I’d like to see adapted to the big screen. Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys (Heard once the movie was in the works but somehow got stalled?), Josh Bazell’s first novel, Beat The Reaper (Highly Recommended; his second book wasn’t as riveting), and Suzanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Absolutely fantastic and highly recommended; would be a mammoth endeavor to make into a film, I know. But what a marvel that would be!). Happy reading.

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We’re in Business, Baby!

Not too busy to blog…

Been busy with work. (Not an excuse for not writing.) More specifically, with establishing my “practice”. I have a new (virtual) office  (Hoot! Hoot!) and a new email address with a domain exclusive to moi!  So I’m in business, y’all! Thing is, though, with these new fixed costs, this “business” (I should say “noble practice”) could be at risk of being unviable. The only surefire way to keep afloat is to get more clients! Which will make me busy busy busy. Using up a substantial amount of my me-time to service other people doesn’t excite me much, but, hey, I figure re-gaining my financial independence (principally from Hubby who has been mighty kind and generous throughout my “hibernation” period) should make up for any downside. And I’m finding that working again is actually quite stimulating. And with the added perks of being able to work from home, and being able to choose what work to take on, has made this venture thus far quite enjoyable.

3 clients to date. I’m the man! Or the girl. Or the it. I’m the It-girl. Whatever. I’m back. Can’t wait to get paid so I can go shopping!

A waste of me? (An Article by The Forgetful Magpie)

In celebration of Mothers Day, I want to share this article, written by my mom (The Forgetful Magpie) and published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 6, 2011 (see the article here).  This post is dedicated to all the mothers out there (especially to my mom and my mother-in-law) who have found quiet happiness in home and family and to whom we owe much thanks. I salute you. Belated Happy Mothers’ Day y’all!

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My daughter’s gift to me on Mother’s Day

A WASTE OF ME

It was the end of the day, just an hour or so before dinner.

I was sitting on my bed, the pillows propped up to support my back, crocheting a blouse for my daughter, Oya. The television in front of the bed was on.

My daughter, having just come home from work, looked in on me. “What are you watching, Mom?”

I looked up to check.

“You really aren’t watching the TV, are you?” Oya observed. “Oh, Mom, you are just wasting electricity!” she said as she walked away.

“I was relaxing, having the TV on relaxes me,” I whispered, to myself. “I had a long, busy day. Wasting electricity is not as bad as wasting me.” I was referring to the personal energy conservation relaxing bit, of course. But the thought gave me a jolt.

Upon reaching seniority when I turned 60, I somehow, slowly but surely, became a homebody immersed exclusively in the concerns of home and family. It was not a conscious choice. It just happened that on that year, my husband Manny had retired and our granddaughter Martina was born.

Manny hardly ever stayed at home before his retirement.  He would leave for work in the morning and get together with his best friend, Onib, the artist, after office hours and be out until the wee hours. They were both Malate “streetwalkers,” better known as “tambays.”

But Onib had died, and Manny had no friends around our suburban home to hang around with. So I had to be a friend to him, someone to go out with and talk to.  When he developed Parkinson’s Disease a few years later, I had to help him deal with his moments of confusion and offer gentle exchanges, pleasant conversations that were not too taxing or challenging.

My daughter Oya was also back home. She had gone away to college at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City and then to the London School of Economics for her graduate studies. Then she came home to stay, worked for her father until he retired, and sold the business. She found a job in Makati which kept her so busy that she invariably came home tired and famished.

Oya has always been frail and a picky eater. So I made a career of coming up with varied and appetizing menus for her meals and lunch packs. My bedtime reading then consisted mostly of going over recipe books, of which I had collected more than a dozen.

Granddaughter

My granddaughter, Martina, is bright and lively. I simply adore her. I eagerly looked forward to Martina’s bi-weekly visits. I always made sure that Martina’s favorite french fries and shrimps are prepared for her. I read to her, baked cookies with her, and sewed costumes for Halloween, school activities, and parties. I have, in fact, just finished making Martina an appliquéd bedcover with matching pillow cases.

And watching TV every evening “to relax” became my regular pastime. I know that watching TV is more often than not a waste of time, so I do something useful besides, something that does not require too much thought or concentration, mindless tasks like crocheting. I had become a real multi-tasker, one who does several time-wasting things at the same time.

Thus do I find myself at 67, a thorough homemaker, or more simply and honestly, a happy housewife.

I have been happy taking care of these three most beloved people. I have kept a fine house and tended a lush garden with joy.  Indeed, I have found great self-satisfaction in doing the things housewives do because, you see, I do them easily and rather well.

However, I have nothing to show for it. There is no public recognition, no awards for exceptional housewifery. In the eyes of the world, it may be a useful talent but hardly a significant one. So, I wonder if  being “just a housewife”  translates into a waste of me.

I have always been a housewife, but until I was slowed down by age and circumstance, I had moved in many circles and assumed many other roles.  I had many friends and had always felt free to do my own thing. I had been an activist, a women’s and children’s advocate, an organizer, and a writer.

When I ran into my friend, Julie, some time ago, she enthusiastically asked, “What are you writing now?”  “Nothing really,” I had to admit. “I haven’t been writing for a while.”

“What?” Julie exclaimed. “Why aren’ t you writing when you do it so well? You are wasting your talent!”

“I have other talents,” I quietly said. From which I derive more satisfaction and joy, I might have added.

Too much effort

Writing is for me a painful and exhausting process. I do not love it. It takes too much effort and insight and passion and discipline. The writing itself is easy enough, but I agonize for several days just getting it all together in my head. And I have to constantly fight the fear that the writing is not good enough. Because each word of praise I receive ups the ante in my attempt to do as well, if not better. I find that writing takes so much of me—or is it off me?

My gift for writing has served me well during my brief stint in advertising, as well as in writing copy for my husband, who was an advertising man. As an activist/organizer, I have written statements, primers, manifestos, speeches, etc. I have also come up with five books.

I do not think I have wasted my talent. I have rendered a good account of it. Although all the writing was done because I had to, or felt the need to, not for the love of it.

The question now is, does “wasting a talent” diminish it? And does non-writing waste the writer?

Just a few weeks ago, my daughter, Oya, noted that of late I had been quite forgetful and often uncharacteristically disorganized.  “Perhaps you should see a neurologist,” she suggested. “You might be developing Alzheimers.” The neurologist ordered an MRI and an EEG.

The results gave me a third jolt. My midbrain showed a scattering of tiny blood vessel “strokes” that blocked the passage of blood and oxygen in capillaries to my brain. It is not so bad, he assured me, considering the onset of old age. He prescribed medication to not only strengthen my neurological system, but also to prevent any more blockages and mitigate further deterioration.  I had actually been wasting away!

I was told I had to become more active physically, mentally, and socially. I concluded that I had been taking care of everybody and everything else but me. I had been writing, but not for me, not to please myself, not to satisfy my needs, not out of love.

“What did the doctor say?” my husband who was waiting outside asked.

“He said I am no longer as bright as I used to be” I said. “And it could get worse.”

“Don’t worry,” my most loyal fan assured me. “With your brain, it will take a long time before you turn into an idiot.”

 

Yoga is not a competitive sport… Ohm

I try not to pit my skills against any other person when in yoga class.  But no matter how many times I tell myself to “Keep your eyes on your own mat,” as my yogi instructs, I sometimes fail in the endeavor. Like in last week’s ashtanga class.

Picture 20 people crammed in a ~40 square meter room. Mats virtually on top of each other. Not very pleasant, that. And all that ujjayi breathing warming the shala on what was already an extremely hot and humid summer day.  A young guy positioned his mat (and himself) beside me. In Manila, few men I know have adopted yoga (which has only recently gained some popularity here) as their fitness regimen of choice, you see. So I thought, beginner, probably. No sweat.

I’m seriously stupid. Needless to say he not only kept pace, he outdid me in every pose (much to my irritation). Midway through class, I decided to focus on my own mat (It was exhausting trying to keep up anyway), my husband’s wise words (“Yoga is not a competitive sport!“) a mantra in my head. So I slowed down and moved my mat halfway behind his. I figured if I was physically behind him, I wouldn’t have to match him and I could concentrate on my own practice; no pressure.

And it worked well enough. That is, until the final corpse pose.  Lying down, face up, top of the head to the front of the room, arms and feet splayed outwards beyond the edges of my mat, I settled in to relax. And then espied, out of the corner of my eye, and smelled, The Foot, his left one, resting much too close to my face. (So close, in fact, that if I turned my head to my right, my nose could have a really intimate conversation with this particular sweaty, smelly Foot.)

(Apologies to the gentleman in the picture. The Foot does not belong to him)
Photo via blisspages.com

I know he’s deep into the pose when The Foot starts twitching ever so slightly. He’s falling asleep!  I think to move back to my original position; but my shuffling about would surely distract the rest of the class. I close my eyes, grit my teeth and bear it. This is my punishment, I thought. For being an arrogant fool. This, I deserve.

I sense The Foot twitching again. As I open my eyes, it jerks.  And hits me, square on the cheek.

Ouch. I didn’t deserve that.

 

Why I Probably Won’t See “The Hunger Games”

I picked up the book, “Hunger Games”, last Saturday from a local bookstore. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. You see, the past 2 weeks, the movie’s been screening in maybe 16 of the 20 cinemas in the greater Mandaluyong City malls (my usual haunts). And I didn’t want to see the movie till I’d read the book first.

I finished the book in less than a day. And this much I can say about it: I understand why the book is so popular with the kids. Katniss, the heroine, is Lara Croft, McGyver, Dr. Quinn (Medicine Woman), and a Disney princess, all rolled into one. (To those of you too young to know Dr. Quinn or McGyver … sigh … there’s always Google.)  And mushy, heart-on-his-sleeve Peeta’s just one to swoon over, isn’t he? The main protagonists even manage to remain honorable despite their severe circumstances (Katniss kills only 2 of her fellow tributes; one, in defense of another, and the other, out of mercy. Peeta manages to kill only 1; unintentionally at that). To an adult and a parent, that one day in the future we may have to see our kids enslaved and drafted into participating in some reality death “game” is certainly frightening. But the obsessive-compulsive in me couldn’t suspend her disbelief long enough to appreciate the logic of the storyline. (Too manyArgh” moments. Yes, the book was probably much too young for me.)  If this had been interactive, I would have raised some serious issues. If I were a tribute whose counterpart got killed off right from the get-go, at the Cornucopia, for example, I would have vigorously remonstrated against the mid-stream rule change that allowed 2 tributes from the same District to win the Games together.  How unfair and prejudicial is that?  I would have also raised a howl about the Muttations. Hell, if I were a parent of one of those tributes that got “mutt-ated” …. Yes, all hell. Helllll.  Would break loose.

The movie could prove to be one of the few exceptions to my general experience that movies don’t live up to the books they’re based on. Thing is, I probably won’t see it.

My Future Son-In-Law

Every time I bring up the subject of our daughter eventually getting married (which is not very often, promise! like only when hubby and I get invited to a wedding), my husband gets a panic attack. I, on the other hand, get all excited (Our daughter’s 8; but don’t the years just fly by!). I mean, really, what mother doesn’t dream of her little girl’s big day and the many ways she can meddle in the prep help make it perfect?

I’d have the ideal son-in-law. He’d look like this:

And looking like that, of course he’d be a big action star in Hollywood (the wedding would probably be sometime in the 2030s so my future son-in-law would be, like, Chris Hemsworth’s and Elsa Pataky’s son – who’s already on his way into the world as we speak!).

Oh, and my future-son-in-law would also be a MD, like a cardiothoracic surgeon. No, wait. Too complicated; he might not have time for family. Neurosurgeon? No, too sexy; he’d get into all sorts of girl-trouble, like McDreamy does. A trauma doctor, maybe. Yes, that’s it.

And that would be just perfect because if he injures himself on set doing his own stunts (yeah, he’d be that cool), he could, like, do minor surgery on himself right there, barking orders to his personal assistant (who would be heterosexual, male, and also a nurse) like “Fetch me the microfibrillar collagen hemostat. Stat!” in a really cool way (I mean, not in a panicky way at all). And the microfibrillar collagen hemostat would be in his doctor’s bag, which is always close by, like in his trailer on set.

And he would absolutely adore my daughter and profess that he doesn’t believe in divorce. And they’d have really cute babies, blue-eyed and dark-haired (because they’d be part-Asian, part-Spanish, part-Australian), who would call me “G-mom”. And I would remind them to wash their hands frequently and load them up with sugar-free treats everyday – for the rest of my happy life.

Manic Hostess with the Mostess

Hosted our first-ever al fresco dinner party in the new home! Hooray! And I must say, it was quite a success. Who knew having a bunch of friends over could be so straightforward?! (Though completely stress-free it never is and never should be.)

I didn’t cook, you see. I ordered in. More accurately, I ordered for pick-up.

But before you say, “How crass!”, or “How rude!”, or whatever words you use to express outrage at such, well, indelicacy and lack of refinement (My grandmother, if she were alive, would have come up with quite a few colorful ones, I bet), you should know that the dishes (which were prepared by an old friend of hubby’s who’s a master in the kitchen) were fabulous (and needless to say, were not your garden variety “take-out-“ food). My newly-minted outdoor buffet table was laid out with the yummy creations of Dulcelin (see dulcelin.com) – American Wagyu Tri-Tip with Japanese steak sauce, Fresh Mushroom Pasta with Truffle Oil, and Baked Norwegian Salmon in Wasabi Aioli. And, of course, Dulcelin’s famous Mango Torte for dessert – “crispy-chewy nougatine, golden mangoes and cream”, it says on their website. (And, yes, the guests were told that the food had been ordered.)

Photo via dulcelin.com. Dulcen's Very Famous Mango Torte

Still, you’re thinking, I’m undoubtedly no “hostess-with-the-mostess” if I can’t mobilize my own household for a small party. In my defense, I took care of all the logistics, including of course, ordering the meals, renting the tables and chairs, supervising the preparatory cleaning of the house and the washing of the dishes and the silverware, and such. As I rarely venture into the kitchen and dining areas of my home except to eat and occasionally look over hubby’s shoulder while he’s doing the cooking, it must be impressed upon you that all that tut-tutting about the house and fussing over the table and placement settings and how the napkins should be folded and arranging the flowers and lighting the candles and making the sure the wine was chilled and, well, generally, busying myself with a myriad other niceties to ensure that the place would look festive and that dinner service would be efficient and orderly (yes, it was a buffet service; but before you pooh-pooh my efforts, the guests’ wine glasses must be refilled from time to time, yes? and the dessert taken out of the fridge and served at the proper time and such?; there’s plenty you can worry about if you’re inclined), was altogether quite a feat for me. Whew. Yes, I did all that remarkably and was very pleased with myself. (Pat, pat, pat on the back here.)

I could do this again. Order in, I mean. I would, really, and without shame, when I have friends over again for a party; our guests loved the food and couldn’t stop saying so. And I do enjoy getting all a-tizzy over the minutiae and (though I may grumble convincingly) I generally love being a fusspot. Do me a favor, though; if you’re ever at my dinner table and you’re enjoying the meal, do ask me to give your compliments to the chef (and I will make sure the chef gets them), but please don’t ask me for the recipe to anything.

Hello? Anyone there?

You deserve an explanation. Why I’ve not been posting.

Sat all morning in front of the Mac trying to come up with good excuses for my neglect. I came up blank. As I have been doing the past month with the posting. I thought maybe you would appreciate some story like that I was off on a Caribbean cruise for a month and the cruise ship didn’t have wifi or the wifi was too slow and all that buffet-eating always made me sleepy at midday, yadda yadda yadda. But you know I’m broke so this might be more convincing: was busy with “life” (which is really no excuse); tutoring my daughter for her final exams, getting her activities lined up for the long, hot summer, setting up playdates with friends, doing yoga, managing the household, cooking … No, not cooking (Seriously?!). Never cooking. No talent for it. I once attempted a beef stroganoff for my roomies back in college and I ended up serving pasta topped with sukiyaki beef in pink sauce (Yes, I did say “pink”; don’t ask me how I did it because I wouldn’t be able to tell you. And no, I didn’t know then that there is a difference between sukiyaki and stroganoff beef cuts). Another time I tried cooking Asian orange chicken but I didn’t have fresh oranges so I improvised with Eight O’Clock instant (powdered) orange juice (What was I thinking?! I don’t remember. Probably something like those plastic orange traffic cones. But maybe not. Traffic cones would have signaled that I not-go-there.). Needless to say both were horrendous. But I digress.

This may be a good (enough) one: I started working part-time. Started like, before the Holy Week. Ok, hell, that doesn’t cover the month.  Anyway, maybe you shouldn’t (and don’t actually) care. Point is, I’m back. And I’ll do better, okay?

Photo via chaosinthekitchen.com. Looks yummy, doesn't it? Needless to say that is not my pink beef stroganoff.

 

Lola (tr. “Grandmother”)

Photo via rgbstock.com

When my daughter Martina was 2 years old, she would meet Lola Lina, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, at the 3rd Floor poolside and playground commons of our condominium building every morning and every afternoon. Both are brought by their yayas or nannies for their routine “pasyal” (tr. walks) and to hang out with the (other) kids who gather together to play there. Martina talked about Lola to me often enough. But I didn’t really realize how fond they were of each other until one night, Lola Lina’s daughter called me to invite Martina to Lola Lina’s 80th Birthday Party at the Hotel Intercontinental. And she had this special request: Would Martina sing the “Happy Birthday” song at the party? And so we went. It was a formal dinner party with over a hundred guests.  Lola Lina’s children and grandchildren flew all the way from the States for the special occasion.

This article, written by my mom and Martina’s grandmother (ever proud of her one and only grandchild), was inspired by the events of that evening and the very special friendship that Lola Lina and Martina share. 

I am posting it here in memory of Lola Lina.

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My life is in a haze, suspended between the here and there, between what was and what is. I am in a daze. I forget things. I forget what I am doing. Most of the time, I do not know where I am. It is all so confusing. And people are so strange. This woman comes and kisses me and calls me mama. She says she is my daughter. Do I have a daughter? “Do you remember?” people ask. Remember what? It’s all because I have grown so old. Although they tell me it’s because I have this illness with a strange name. I forget the name.

There are many things I can no longer do. I cannot walk. I move around in a wheelchair. And I have a yaya who feeds me, bathes me, dresses me and cleans after me. She pushes me around in my wheelchair like a baby, like I did for my own babies. Yes, I had babies once. My babies also had yayas. Like Martina.

I had a big house then. I remember a big house with many rooms. It’s gone now. Today, I live in a unit, number 505, it says on the door. Units are small. Even my room is small with just one window through which sunlight comes in. Pero no importa.

Martina also lives in a unit, just below mine. After my afternoon nap, my yaya brings me down to the 3rd floor, where there are plants in pots, a playground and a swimming pool. Martina goes there too, after her own nap.

The first time I saw her, she came and stood in front of me. “Hello,” she said. Then she came closer. Putting her hand to her chest, she said, “Martina”. I tried to tell her my name but the sound wouldn’t come out.

“Si Lola ‘yan, [That’s Lola]” her yaya said. “Lo-la”, she mouthed and smiled.

She is a tiny two year old. A pretty little mestiza, fragile-looking but very active. She runs around a lot with one or two other children following her lead. A happy, friendly child who laughs often.

One day she came to me to show me two stuffed toys. They were both red and looked alike, except that one was bigger. “This is Elmo, Lola,” she said of the bigger one. “And this is Baby Elmo.”

I remember because she was so cute that I couldn’t help reaching out and pinching her cheeks. “No, Lola,” she protested, “that hu’ts.” But she didn’t cry. I have never seen her cry. She does not have crying fits like the other children.

I am now 80 years old, you know. I had a birthday party in a large hall filled with many people. There was a program, with songs and dances and speeches just for me.

“Mama has a little friend who came to sing to her,” my daughter was saying. And there she was … Martina!  She walked confidently, straight to where I was, took the microphone and sang the birthday song. The words rang out very clearly, and for a 2 year old, in perfect tune. Everybody applauded when she bowed. I clapped too. She turned around, looked at me, and said, ”I love you, Lola!”

There was a light around her, a halo, and her pretty green dress glittered. She was smiling … sweetly. I knew at that moment that Martina is an angel, una pequeña querubin, with soft straight hair. I know she is an angel heaven sent to me, my own special angel!

When I get to heaven’s gate, I will tell them that I have an angel friend. Her name is Martina, I will say. Then, surely they will let me in. I must not forget her name. I must always remember. Martina.

DIY … ish … this week

I’ve been on cloud 9 all week after getting a few “likes” and comments, and a couple of new followers (quite likely my relatives / high school BFFs writing under assumed names), on account of the last post (Paging Mom! If you would please write more of that good stuff …). Then I tried writing a new post myself but got the jitters (You should know that my mom’s a professional writer with 5 books to her name; I am NOT, so pretty please be kind). So I left the Mac to simmer for a bit and got busy. With other things. More specifically, a DIY-ish project.

Hubby’s having some friends over for an al fresco dinner Saturday night so I decided that we badly needed an outdoor buffet table / bar for our lanai. But after talking to a few local designers and furniture makers, the cost for the look we were going for was way too prohibitive (I couldn’t believe how expensive it was to have something that’s supposed to look natural / rustic made). So in the end we decided to keep it simple (and cheap). So I managed to steal 2 10-foot yakal planks which my mom bought from a local junk shop some months ago (yakal is a Philippine hardwood that is used for house beams and trusses).

I loved the notches where the joists were supported by the beam.

The planks had been rotting in my mom’s backyard for months. So I hired a handyman to try to breathe new life into the worn wood. The design is, uhrrmm (drum roll please), mine (inspired, of course, by hundreds of online designs – thank you Houzz!).  We decided to keep the notches — and all the holes and other imperfections of the wood; I love furniture with a past!

Used motor oil was poured over the right leg for that weathered look (great for weatherproofing, too) and 2 coats of furniture wax were smoothed over the top and left leg after sanding.

The (close to) final product: an outdoor buffet / bar that is unique in all the world:

I am happy.

The bench is a bonus (from the leftover wood).

 Yes, I’m totally happy.