Saturday, December 31, 2005


So here I am, punching out words on the keyboard and watching a bit of Stephen Chow on the tube. I'm switching back and forth between tabs on Firefox, seeing as there's a list of notable 2005 deaths on MSNBC that's worth reading. In a few minutes, I'll probably resume my brainstorming for Vin Simbulan's draconic anthology and the Fully Booked writing contest (both due next month, which is kind of unfair, really). By 7:00 pm tonight, I'll be in a restaurant somewhere, sitting among relatives and toasting the new year with non-alcoholic drinks.

All in all, it's a normal New Years' Eve afternoon today.

There's nothing as gratifying as lazing around the computer on a Saturday afternoon, I think. If at anytime I stop feeling like writing, I can always turn off the Internet connection and play a nice game of Wesnoth.

No, I'd rather not look back on the year 2005. The anticipation of 2006 is enough as it is, and I try to think of myself as the kind of person who looks forward rather than back. Sure, we've written quite a few works of art. Sure, we've looked at our selves, our souls, and our surroundings. Sure, we've created new endeavors, traveled to fantastic places, and tasted new experiences. But that's all gone now. That's long gone. All that we have left to bring into the future are those lessons we have seen fit to teach ourselves.

That's probably what New Years' Resolutions are for, I think. Every year is a benchmark, a method by which we can ask ourselves what has changed. How have we improved or degraded? Has it been for the better, or for the worse? Have our perceptions shifted somewhat? And most importantly, why?

Different people will tell you different things, depending on just who they are. Some people will actively seek change, while others will be content to let things stand the way they are. It's kind of like conservativism and liberalism -- only without the politics, the activism, and the general name-calling. Either you change or you don't. At the end of the year, it's only the assessment that's really important. Wrap up the bills and close up the books, boys -- it's time for the IRS to step in and do their count.

Back at the beginning of 2005, I remember reading somewhere that this was a specific Year of the Rooster (according to the handy Chinese zodiac); that 2005 was supposed to be a year of upheaval. 2005 was supposed to be a year that tested the denizens of the world for their ability to handle oncoming change. Now, I'm hardly the superstitious or astrological sort, but I'll leave you to decide whether or not that little prophetic announcement was accurate enough for you.

Change, yes. Quite obvious, really. Every year brings change.

But momentous change? You figure out whether or not that's accurate in your case. It's your life, after all. I'm the last person you want to say how much you've grown or shrunk in the last year.

You're your own IRS, in that sense. You should be your own IRS. And for you, it's time to go a-counting.

So... there go my chicken scratches for today. As for me, well: I've slept till noon. I've dragged the computer over to the little corner shop for a wee bit of maintenance. I've had lunch. I've watched some Asian kung-fu action on the small screen. I've opened up my last Christmas gift (Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, which beats the pants off anything else I've received this season). I've opened up Blogger and punched in my last message for the bottomless pit that was 2005, and I'm content.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I might just be able to squeeze off a short Wesnoth game before I leave for my little New Years' Eve gathering.

I wish you all a Happy Holidays, ladies and gentlemen, and a mighty good 2006 besides.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Why Do You Write, Sean?

I write because:

... I like writing.

... I wish to establish the fundamental truths I explore within my mind.

... I wish to delude myself with lies, vanity and all that seethes within my heart.

... I look to describe the condition of humanity in some way. What does it mean to be human? What makes one human? Why are we inherently good / evil / moral / immoral / amoral / fat / thin / tall / short / quiet / talkative / graceful / clumsy / stoic / outspoken / indifferent? And why, for that matter, do we like chocolate?

... I need to get the whispers out of my head before they drive me insane.

... I own a thousand monkeys and a thousand typewriters, and one of these days, I'll finally be able to see if one of them has managed to turn out the works of Shakespeare.

... I need to somehow organize my thoughts in one place.

... The aliens made me do it.

... I want to see how fast I can type using a standard keyboard arrangement. (I'll give the Dvorak a try soon.)

... I like placing certain character types in certain situations and seeing how they work their way through it, much like white rats in a complex maze.

... I'm a hopeless neurotic and desperately crave for peoples' attention.

... I'm a true independent who needs no man's approval.

... It allows me to speak without exposing people to some of my obvious aspects: the crooked teeth, the donkey-like braying, and the Devil's halitosis.

... It allows me to dialogue with readers, and that's especially important. Only readers can give a truly objective opinion of one's own writings. The resulting critique may be good, bad, or just plain indifferent, but it's valuable nonetheless.

... It allows me to dialogue with writers, and that's especially important. Only writers know what the struggle is like, and are familiar with varying approaches to their duties. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't, but half the fun's in trying them out.

... It allows me to dialogue with myself, and that's especially important. You figure out why.

... I can't do anything else. It's been a while since they've chained me to the laptop, much less let me out of the house.

... I've had a bomb strapped to me since November, and it's threatening to go off if I ever stop writing for more than a week. I'm just sitting here, desperately waiting for Keanu Reeves to come by and get on the bus. (If Mr. Neo isn't available, then I suppose Sandra Bullock would do.)

... I can put up a bunch of pop-culture references and then gleefully see if people get them.

... I can act as a force of justice, reason, advocacy, or argument. One voice may not be much, but it's a big deal if it happens to be yours.

... I want to catch myself overusing certain expressions or figures of speech, and consequently cut down on my use of them.

... It allows me to lay traps for my most distant thoughts. The empty slate is more than sufficient bait, and soon the net swings wildly with captured emotion. I then calm them down, gently release them from their temporary imprisonment, and scatter them across the stars.

... It's better than running around smoking, or drinking, or doing drugs, or downloading porn, or hanging around with loose women, or hanging around with loose men, or generally digging a hole in the backyard and sticking my head inside.

... It's really gratifying, seeing all your words on paper. (Virtual paper, yes, but still...)

... Hey, why not?

... My third-grade English teacher thought that I would never amount to anything.

... I want to find some middle ground between all the genres in existence, and if I keep writing, then I might accidentally hit upon it someday.

... 42.

... It ain't much fun when you realize one of the secrets of the universe and have nobody else to tell it to.

... I'm serious, man. The aliens made me do it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Looking Back (Part 2)

You think writing about suman latik is easy?

Well, okay... you probably don't. That's all right. The thought probably never crossed your mind; I know that it was one of the last things I would have written about to begin with.

If I haven't told you how difficult it is yet, then I'll tell you now: It's not easy.

Come to think of it, there are probably ten or twelve other people out there -- fellow writers in the Suman Latik Web Ring -- who experienced, first-hand, just how difficult the exercise was. Or how easy it may be, depending on your point of view.

I figure that the first thing that most people consider is some form of prose or poetry. Despite the indignity of the task, it's not all that difficult to imagine a short story about suman, or a sonnet about latik sauce. To be sure, the suman doesn't necessarily have to have a starring role in the finished product; It can merely permeate the background to such a degree that you can smell, feel and taste it. A good writer should be able to write about anything he wants, much less suman latik.

The problem, of course, is that you can't keep writing suman fiction or suman poetry forever. You'll eventually run out of different approaches. You'll eventually run out of central themes. You'll eventually run out of ways to describe the glistening grains of rice, the soft sweetness of the tropical sauce, and the sticky sensation in the roof of your mouth. The exercise is more a method of seeing how long you last than it is a measure of your creativity, I think.

Then again, any person who can write even a small number of creative, compelling, and morbidly fascinating suman latik posts can already find them a testament to his skill. I suspect that my approach to the matter is more of a chance-based endeavor: I just churn them out week after week in the hopes that some of them strike it rich. I have to admit that not all of my works were winners, anyhow.

It's a lot like karate-chopping your way through a bunch of boards: You can break twenty boards at once with a single blow, and people will give you their applause. But you don't want to break twenty, thirty, or even fifty boards with a single blow. You want to find that single moment, that unparalleled level of skill that allows you to sunder a board precisely in half. You want to reach the point where you can merely twitch once and watch the wood shatter into pieces without anyone seeing your hand hit the surface. You want the audience to gasp, or shake their heads at the sheer impossibility of it all.

Frankly, I think that most people are surprised that I've gotten this far on suman latik alone. But I assure you that that'll pale in comparison to how the ultimate suman latik post turns out. You'll know it when you read it, I think. :)

I know that I've tackled the topic from different approaches, some that directly reference suman latik and some that hardly make mention of it at all. (I even wrote a cute essay concerning the latter, I think.) But for all this work, I still have yet to get down and write.

Do matters like this have goals in mind? Sure. But I suppose that they're not as easy or as obvious as they first seem...

(To be concluded in part 3.)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Antaria: Of Memories Beyond

The Festival of Remembrance was over, its twelve days now firmly ensconced in the short-term memory of every man, woman and child who had guested in its cloth tassels and raucous music. All throughout Lorendheim, peasants and noblemen alike returned to their duties with the fading images of the event dancing in their minds.

Lianesse, Vestal of Antaria, liked watching them. That was all, really; She just liked watching them mill about in the streets, going about their daily business. It gave her a sense of... earthiness, she felt. It gave her a feeling that her feet were still firmly planted on the ground despite the fact that they were hundreds of yards in the air.

Lianesse had been Vestal for over fifty years, but she still knew where her heart lay.

She leaned back in her ornate divan, letting the silks fall about her tired old legs, and thought. She reached for a soft cushion, feeling the soft satin whisper beneath her fingers. She brushed the cover of an old book, given to her as a gift from the Metrians ten years hence.

Sometimes she missed the Metrians. But she remembered them, and they remembered her. It was enough to satisfy a weary old woman, to a certain degree.

She cast a short glance towards the window, noted silently that the twilight was approaching, and then decided to reach for the book again.


Kharandon watched the young woman with a great deal of interest. "And who is she?" he asked the veteran healer standing beside him.

"She was once Thanatai," Sister Teresa said. "We found her among the remnants of an Inquisition raid... one of the few survivors of her village."

The young woman sat at the foot of her bed, completely still and unbending. She was dressed in plain clothes of Galenic white, and had a distant expression in her eyes. In front of her, a bowl of water sat peacefully on a small table.

"The Inquisition found an entire village populated by necromancers?" Kharandon asked.

"As I understand, my Lord," Sister Teresa said, "the village deliberately sought to hide a number of their agents. She may or may not have been one of them."

"I see," Kharandon replied, watching the young woman stare blankly into space.

"We have not informed the Inquisition of her presence here," Sister Teresa admitted. "The Order of the Guiding Light seeks to bring back what has been lost, not to merely excise what has been corrupted. We believed that we could rehabilitate her, perhaps let her see the truth of our cause."

Kharandon nodded. "How do your efforts fare, Sister Teresa?"

The healer bowed in deference. "Quite well, my Lord. She has been very eager to accept our teachings, and at this point she only vaguely remembers the depravity to which she was once subject. But we cannot prevent her from receiving the visions."

"The visions?"

"She is a seer, my Lord. The lessons of the Thanatai have warped her mind to the point that she can catch what appear to be glimpses of the future."

Kharandon nodded. "Fascinating," he said.

"Indeed, my Lord. It was my opinion that this may turn out to be one of Aran's hidden blessings. The knowledge of forthcoming happenings may be useful to us."

"It would," Kharandon said, looking into the young woman's fine gray eyes. "You were right not to inform the Inquisition. Does she have a name, Sister Teresa?"

"Gwyneth, my Lord."


Dusk slowly fell upon Lorendheim in sheets of blue and indigo. Lianesse could hear the roar of the crowds fade away, and finally fall silent.

She stood, and placed one hand on the wooden door. How long had she lived in the Vestal's Spire? Fifty years? Fifty-two? Fifty-five? She was old, and her memory was fading. She remembered faces but not names, and names but not faces.

It was the people below who gave her strength. Thousands upon thousands of individuals, from peasants to journeymen to merchants to nobles -- all gazed towards the Spire at dusk each day to observe a ritual that was perhaps as old as time itself.

Lianesse opened the plain wooden door, and it opened onto empty air a full ten stories above the ground.

Before her lay the Tabernacle. Like the Vestal's Spire, the Tabernacle was part of what people knew as the Obsidian Ruins. Both buildings were of black, shadowed stone lanced with streaks of white, and they glowed softly at night against a clear field of stars.

Unlike the Spire, however, the Tabernacle was no longer connected to the rest of the ruins. It floated in mid-air, a single structure held aloft by some unknown force, the crown of a once-mighty tower now utterly resistant to the ravages of time and logic. Against all common sense, it remained accessible to the Ruins by a single long flight of black-lined stairs, stairs whose ancient stones that now crunched under Lianesse's sandaled feet.

This was the center of Antaria. The hopes and dreams of the people, the faith and love that they devoted towards their one true god... all of it came to rest on the Tabernacle's stately exterior. All of it came to rest on the shoulders of a single Vestal.

Lianesse was Aran's one true servant, and this was a servant's daily duty.

She placed one tiny foot on the stairway's first step, and began her ascent.


"Can you hear me, Gwyneth?" Kharandon asked, looking into her eyes.

Sister Teresa shook her head. "Sometimes she falls into trances, my Lord. They last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. We do not know what she sees during these episodes, nor do we know where her mind wanders."

Kharandon nodded. He stepped around the table and its bowl of water, and peered into the young woman's eyes from a different vantage point. Gwyneth's eyes were a deep shade of gray, much like his sister's and much like his own.

"Can you hear me, Gwyneth?" Kharandon asked, slowly placing one gentle hand on the young woman's arm.

Gwyneth screamed, and Kharandon jerked his hand back in utter surprise. The table overturned and the bowl upended, flying through the air and drenching the floor in clear liquid before smashing into a dozen pieces. Sister Teresa gave a sharp intake of breath, catching her shrill response between her teeth and hiding it beneath the thick cloth of one sleeve.

Gwyneth fell back onto the bed, thrashing wildly. Kharandon stood back, steadying himself with one hand and guarding himself with the other. Sister Teresa took one look at the convulsing young woman and dashed out of the room.

And to his surprise, Kharandon heard the young woman speak in a clear voice despite the seizure.

"There will be calm, and there will be madness," Gwyneth said in a hollow tone. "The arcanics shall desert the sorcerers in their time of need, and a power shall arise to replace them. It shall drive souls beyond the point of redemption, and its talons shall grasp the land as a conqueror does his prize."

"Madness indeed," Kharandon said, uncomprehending.

Gwyneth suddenly shuddered and lay still, and for a moment Kharandon thought that the vision had passed. Then the voice began to speak again, and the first thing Kharandon heard was his own name.

"Kharandon Greybane!" Gwyneth roared. "Remember me upon your ascendance, Kharandon Greybane! When your moment comes, Kharandon Greybane, you shall remember me!"

"Madness," Kharandon said, although he shuddered with fear inside.

The voice never spoke again, not before Sister Teresa returned. When the healer finally entered the room with two guards in tow, she found Kharandon sitting on a nearby chair, anxiously wiping the sweat from his forehead.


Lianesse reached the top of the obsidian stairway, and watched as the Tabernacle unfolded before her.

It was a large structure, perhaps about the size of a great hall. It was certainly smaller than any of the grand halls of any of the palaces of Antaria, however, and she was aware that there was plenty of speculation on just what was inside. Some said that the Tabernacle housed a collection of artifacts that were sacred to Aran; Some said that it contained the holiest of temples to the benevolent god, greater even than any of the Galenics' opulent cathedrals. Some even said that the voice of Aran himself lived in the Tabernacle, and that only the Vestal could communicate the hearts and desires of his worshippers with it.

But only the Vestal knew just what was inside, and Lianesse knew better than to tell.

She paused at the massive wrought-iron gates of the floating structure, and touched the cold metal with her fingertips. She was Aran's servant, and this was her task. It was her duty every dusk of every day of every year of her life.

She slid the iron doors open; For all their weight, they yielded under her gentle pressure. Ten and many stories below, she felt the contented sighs of the gathered crowds. Today's ritual walk was over; Tomorrow, another would begin.

Lianesse slipped into the darkness inside. A few seconds later, she closed the doors behind her.


"My name is Kharandon Greybane," Kharandon said.

Gwyneth bowed low. "I offer sincere greetings, Lord Kharandon. I am Gwyneth, of the Galenics."

Kharandon nodded in acknowledgement. It was strange how, scant minutes after she had roared his name, he found himself introducing it to her for the first time. His brow wrinkled at the thought.

"My apologies, my Lord," Sister Teresa said. "The visions... we cannot predict when they take over. I can assure you that they arrive in a much calmer fashion than the one you have just witnessed."

"Of course," Kharandon said. He had told Sister Teresa everything he could remember about the first prophecy, although he felt it best to keep the second statement to himself.

"With your permission, my Lord, we would like to observe her further."

Kharandon shook his head. "That will not be necessary, Sister Teresa."

The healer appeared to be confused at his statement. "Pardon me, my Lord?"

"I will see to her myself," Kharandon said sternly. "If Lady Gwyneth can indeed see into the future, then it is best that she communicate to one who is in close proximity to the Lady Satine. The visions she sees may be a matter of security for all of Antaria."

It wasn't quite a lie, Kharandon considered. Satine Whitestone was unlikely to act promptly on any critical pieces of information, prophetic or otherwise. But he felt safer knowing that everything was under his control.

Sister Teresa bowed low. "I accede to my Lord's wishes," she answered. "Should you require any assistance, then the Order of the Guiding Light shall remain at your disposal."

"My thanks, Sister Teresa," Kharandon said. "It is an honor to have your attendance."


It was dark when Lianesse emerged from the Tabernacle. The streets were clear and the shadows were already about; Unlike the earlier dusk, there was no crowd that watched as the Vestal descended the steps into her home.

Lianesse navigated the stairway carefully, and paused for breath only when she reached the plain wooden door that led to her quarters. She did not resume breathing until she was back inside, and even then it came in thin, ragged gasps.

She was old now. Perhaps too old. But she would continue her duties until the last.

"There shall be another Vestal one day," she said, to no one in particular.

"Then we must be thankful that that day has not come yet," a voice said, from the shadows of her chambers. Lianesse remembered the tone and texture of the voice -- and embraced it as she had done for many, many years.

She smiled. "Hello, Atharus," she said.

The Metrian grandmaster stepped out of the darkness, chasing it away with a single lighted taper. "You should light your candles before you make your ascent," Atharus said. "You wouldn't want to return to a pitch-black room."

Lianesse laughed. It was a small, slight laugh, one that was accustomed to her ancient frame.

"You're a treasure, Master Atharus," she said, putting one hand to her face.

"Stop calling me 'Master'," Atharus said. "You haven't been my student in over fifty years."

"Over fifty years," Lianesse repeated. "Over fifty years."

"You remember all too much, Lianesse. It's too heavy for one of your age."

"It's my burden, Atharus. All men have burdens, and this is mine. Aran chose me."

"Aran has always been a fool," Atharus said without smiling, "and the people have never failed to amaze me with how superstitious they truly are."

"But is that not why we are here, Atharus? We are here for their sake... that, and the sake of all men who cannot remember."

The Metrian grandmaster sighed. "We celebrate a Festival of Remembrance for that very purpose, and look where it's gotten us. We celebrate Remembrance when we cannot even remember."

Lianesse looked deep into the old man's eyes. She saw layers and layers of age there, and more than a few hints of hardened expression. But she also saw a tiny sparkle in Atharus's eyes, one that kept the old grandmaster going where most would have faltered.

"But you remember, Atharus," she said. "You remember, and I remember."

"Yes," he said.

"And as long as we remember, then Antaria shall forever be secure. That," she finally added, "makes all the difference."

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Hey, Presents!

What did I get for Christmas, you ask?

A Gillette Mach 3 Turbo hand razor and some shaving cream, that's what.



My brother, on the other hand, got an iPod Nano.




* No, I'm not jealous. But I can't stop laughing at how funny this is. :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Looking Back (Part 1)

If my count is correct, then this should be my 31st suman latik post -- which means that I've technically written one of these each day for a full month. Sometimes I even wonder just where all this content comes from; It's not as though I have any great love for suman, after all.

Every now and then, a visitor to this blog will contact me directly and ask the fateful question: What's with the suman latik?

Personally, I've considered that very same thing myself.

The suman latik posts actually started off as a bit of a joke. You see, way back during the 1st Philippine iBlog Summit, speaker Dean Alfar raised the importance of relevant blog posts, as opposed to mere plain blog posts. As an example, Mr. Alfar put forward the idea of writing about suman; Imagine, if you will, an article that says in its entirety:

May XX, 2005: Ate some suman today. Ang sarap ng suman!

The above item is obviously not much of a blog post, and it most definitely won't rate more than a passing glance.

Mr. Alfar's point seemed pretty clear to me -- any written article, much less a blog post, will hold no substance if it carries little or no relevance to its audience. Now, I will remain quick to argue that any blogger reserves the right to scribble whatever he or she wants in his or her blog (whether it's suman-related or otherwise). But just because one can write anything he or she wants doesn't necessarily mean that people will read it and come away more or less satisfied.

In short, you don't just write about suman; You find a way to make the topic of suman relevant.

The original suman latik webring probably realized this to some extent, which was why a bunch of online writers suddenly developed an affinity for the glutinous rice dish. For all I know, it might even be why you're slogging through one of my mundane Wednesday posts right now. To be quite honest, it sounded more like a challenge when we first set it off: Ladies and gentlemen, your assignment is to write something about suman every Wednesday. You can do anything with the topic -- pen a story, construct an essay, paint a picture, make a comic strip -- as long as you make it interesting and readable. This disc will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim.

I won't pretend that all of the resulting articles were pretty good. Some of them were downright rotten, and we knew it. But regardless of quality, we had to admit that every single one of them was readable. Every single one of them was leagues beyond simply saying that suman was good to eat. Every single one of them attempted to tackle the relevance of an unlikely topic in some way, and often, that was more than enough.

If anything, the webring easily demonstrated that it was not only possible to come up with something substantial out of a relatively insubstantial topic, but that it was also possible for multiple writers to come up with completely different approaches to the theme.

It's amazing what one can do with suman latik, you think?

(To be continued in part 2.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Paper Doll: Chiaroscuro

No one said it has to be real,

But it's got to be something you can reach out and feel
Now it ain't right, it ain't fair
Castles fall in the sand, and we fade in the air,

And the good girls go to heaven
But the bad girls go everywhere

And the good girls go to heaven
But the bad girls go everywhere

Somebody told me so
Somebody told me, now I know
Every night in my prayer,
I'll be praying that the good girls go to heaven
But the bad girls go everywhere

- Meatloaf, "Good Girls Go to Heaven
(Bad Girls Go Everywhere)"

About a month ago, one of my female friends found herself in need of a white bustier for her organization's annual gathering. By some unfathomable reason, she actually allowed me to tag along as she scoured the malls and department stores for that one article of clothing.

As we went through the sparse selections at various places, we discussed exactly what she was planning to wear: A white bustier, black slacks and a white trench coat. (The white coat, of course, was so that she could get to the gathering without being stared at.) She figured that this was a relatively good combination; I disagreed, primarily because I thought that a black coat would look better.

I think I preferred a white bustier - black slacks - black coat combination because of my experiences wearing formal clothes. We've probably already noticed, for one, that the usual three-piece suit involves a coat that's the same color as the trousers and a shirt that's the exact opposite in tone; I normally wear a white shirt, blue-gray pants and a blue-gray suit to ultra-formal occasions, for example.

(And for those people who have started wondering whether or not I've suddenly gone nuts: No, I am not about to guest on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or anything. A heterosexual man has to have even a little fashion sense, after all.)

After three or four hours of searching, however, we came up empty. None of the stores we visited had any white bustiers available (or at least, any white bustiers that weren't already attached to prom dresses). She told me that she already had a black bustier at home, however, and we resigned ourselves to the fact that she was most likely going to wear that with the black slacks and white coat.

I considered the idea of the resulting black-black-white combination over the next few days, however, and decided that maybe it didn't seem so bad. In fact, as I mentioned this to her over tea the next time we met, I sketched out a rough idea of how the result would look. While we both liked what we saw, I figured that perhaps it was worth changing the white coat to a white jacket instead. (No reason came to mind at that time... maybe I just like jackets.)

Sadly, however, her organizational gathering had long since finished by then, and so we were forced to shelve the fashion discussion for another time.

But then again, some things have a habit of cropping up in the strangest places:

It doesn't look bad, does it? I don't think it's daring enough for the character's, er... character, but I really shouldn't complain as long as it drapes well.

Well, there's my second entry for Jac's Pilya contest. Now I really must get back to my fiction...

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Darn it, I've had a bunch of songs stuck in my head since Wednesday.

Believe me, having a bunch of songs stuck in your head is infinitely worse than having a lot of prospective plots bouncing around your mind. The plots, at least, are potential ideas that can later be released in the form of written prose. The songs, on the other hand, are fully realized works that you can't even perform without having to pay some hefty royalties. You can't do anything with a bunch of songs that are stuck in your mind, unless you're patient enough to wait for them to go away.

I think that that's why people who listen to music at work tend to confuse me. How do they manage to come up with completely original work in the face of commercially packaged products, anyway? I suppose that it's fine with regards to noncreative, repetitive tasks like encoding, but what if you're writing a report? Designing an ad campaign? Brainstorming a marketing strategy? I don't get it.

I'm aware that a similar situation exists for writers, though. Every writer almost certainly has a bunch of books by his bedside. Every writer can easily name a bunch of his or her favored authors. Every writer invariably reads.

So, bearing in mind that every writer is constantly surrounded by the works of his or her peers -- and, arguably, greater works at that -- how do these writers manage to come up with new and original stuff? How do we create new concepts when we constantly pelt ourselves with a barrage of older, more established ideas?

There's a theory going around that the anti-plagiarist effort doesn't particularly like, but it's the one to which I subscribe: There are no new ideas, and creativity is simply a matter of putting together a bunch of old concepts in some new combinations.

Just think about it:

- The concept of a leading female character, for example, is most definitely not new. (The Bible makes mention of Deborah, one of Israel's judges; and Esther, who has her own book in the Old Testament.)

- Neither, for that matter, is the concept of a character with an interest in archaeology. (Lovecraft's explored this area, and as long as we're on the subject, so has Spielberg.)

- And characters who are skilled in shooting and marksmanship have long been a mainstay of action-oriented stories. (Zane Grey comes to mind, but come to think of it, so does the Lone Ranger.)

It's fairly obvious, then, that the concept for a certain female tomb raider is an amalgam of multiple established ideas.

While the theory looks sound, however, I can't help but think that it's got to have a loophole somewhere. It can talk about how ideas simply source themselves from other ideas all it wants, but the fact remains that, for everything to have started out in the first place, there must have been an original, primordial idea somewhere.

It's the chicken-and-egg problem, everyone. In the context of the argument, it's obvious that eggs come from chickens, and that chickens come from eggs. But there must have been something that started the entire chain, and the question of whether that something was a chicken or an egg is at the very heart of the matter.

The early scientists come to mind. Where in the world did Isaac Newton get his original notion about gravity? What caused Galileo to suddenly realize the basic idea behind pendulum theory? How did the concept of underwater displacement arrive in Archimedes' mind, a mental impact so sudden that it got him running naked through the streets? It's not as though any of them had any relevant notes or prior references or predecessors or anything like that.

Is it possible for people to come up with completely original ideas when they're sitting in the middle of a hoard of established concepts? If so, how? Why?

Or maybe it's the complete opposite -- maybe we hardly see any completely original ideas nowadays because we have so much exposure to established ones. If anything, that could be why most of the creative productions nowadays consist of various rehashes and recombinations of older stuff.

Or maybe it's an alternative way of looking at the opposite -- maybe it's still possible to come up with completely original ideas, and yet we're just too lazy to do anything but tool around with the references available to us. Maybe we're just content to listen to our downloaded mp3 files (or purchased CDs), and not bother making our own music. Maybe we like suffusing ourselves in the fiction of established universes so much that we don't bother making up our own.

Or maybe we get distracted to such a degree that we can't think straight anymore... which leads us back to the bunch of songs that are still stuck in my head.

Good grief, how do people work straight when Meatloaf's crooning voice hems and haws at their inner minds? The man must have single-handedly made the 80's a case in human distraction.

Then again, it could just be Meatloaf.

Then again, it could just be me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Songs in the Key of Suman

It's late, I'm tired, and I don't feel like writing anything right now. So, no suman post for today.



Okay, maybe just one.

I'm sitting in front of the computer listening to eighteen tracks of a personalized CD right now. About a month ago, you see, a friend and I agreed to burn copies of each other's music files and exchange them so that each of us could get an inkling of what the other was listening to. At this very moment, in fact, I'm finding it rather difficult to concentrate on writing because of the hard rock blaring in my ears.

(For the pundits: Yeah, well, we're burning mp3s. But we agreed to burn only one music sample per artist, if only for the purpose of letting each other know what their work is like. That way, if we like certain songs, we can go out and pick up the respective CDs. Or... well, uh... maybe... steal a few more files from off the Internet, but the reasoning isn't exactly perfect here.)

As a result of our little agreement, I've thrown a lot of bits and pieces into mine: Some rock, a little techno, a dash of R&B, and a sprinkling of Broadway. Otherwise it's about eighteen different songs that you normally wouldn't see on a single CD. (The disc, I fear, may develop a serious identity crisis in the near future.)

Now, with my current activities out of the way, I will now attempt a smooth segue into the topic of suman latik.

As far as I can recall, no artist has ever released a song about suman latik. In fact, based on the few attempts that first came out in the webring, it must be pretty difficult to write such a song. I mean, what would it be about? What kind of theme would it integrate with sticky rice? Would it get played on the radio despite the obvious fact that it's a song about suman, of all things?

So I won't try writing a song about suman latik. I think that it's the most obvious idea that marries suman and music, and I'm not much for obvious ideas. Besides, my lyrical attempts are usually so bad that their printouts have to be burned and their ashes scattered.

Instead, I'll ask a different question: What if you had a suman album?

No, I mean a suman album. What if you had a CD collection that was entitled "Suman", and had a picture of the delicacy in front? (We can probably use the Sassy Lawyer's picture above, just for this exercise.) What songs would probably be inside?

The first thing that comes to mind is "Weird Al" Yankovic:
Don’t you tell me you’re full
Just eat it, eat it, eat it, eat it
Get yourself an egg and beat it
Have some more chicken, have some more pie
It doesn’t matter if it’s boiled or fried
Just eat it, eat it, just eat it, eat it
Just eat it, eat it, just eat it, eat it, ooh
- "Eat It" ("Weird Al" Yankovic)
I'm never satisfied with three meals a day
While the world is sleeping I'll be munching away
Gonna sneak into the kitchen
Gonna tiptoe down and turn on the light
Right, yeah, if no one's around to see you
It don't matter if you snack all night
- "Snack All Night" ("Weird Al" Yankovic)

"Weird Al" is probably the king of strange songs. Chances are fairly good that if you're looking for a song on an obscure topic, he's probably written it already. :)

In addition, I must point out that Craig David has some oddly coincidential lyrics in one of his works:
You're what I want
You're what I need
I wanna taste ya (taste ya) take ya home with me
You look so good
Good enough to eat
I wonder if I can peel your wrapper
If I can be your fantasy
- "What's Your Flava" (Craig David)

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

What's more, I know that the band Shonen Knife released a single called "Banana Leaf" in one of their early albums. Sadly, I don't have the lyrics to the song, but the title of this one alone makes it something of a good fit.

What else is there, anyway? Maybe something tragic...
I feel it soft
In my hands
So soft
So soft
And I can sit through the door
Watching mine
Watching the sign
I know it's soft
So soft
I know it's soft
So soft
- "Soft", (Moby)

Yes, it's bad to take Moby's lyrics out of context, but it sounds pretty close on the surface, right?

I suppose I can name one more possibility, although it's in as general a context as "Weird Al" above:
Food, glorious food!
Eat right through the menu.
Just loosen your belt
Two inches and then you
Work up a new appetite.
In this interlude --
Then food,
Once again, food
Fabulous food,
Glorious food.
- "Food, Glorious Food" (Oliver!, the Musical)

It's probably just me, but I find it difficult to leave Broadway out of anything nowadays.

That's six possible entries into a suman album already, and although the pickings are pretty sparse, there could be a few more songs out there that could fit. I don't suppose anyone's got any other suggestions?

No? Ah, well.

I suppose that this is why personalizing a CD isn't easy -- either you've got too much to work with, or you've got too little to pick from.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be going back to checking my selections...


In Being Not So Wide Awake

The December work schedule's starting to take its toll on me. I've got nothing but tedious tasks for perhaps the next couple of weeks.

But then again, getting to sleep at 3:00 am every evening doesn't exactly help either. I usually spend the early early morning doing a few writings, checking up on a bunch of references, and playing the occasional addictive game. On top of that, I still have a habit of reading a small paperback just before going to bed.

I'm starting to break down, I think. One of the effects of sleep deprivation involves a constant feeling of fatigue, and I believe I'm waaaay past that stage already. At this point, I'm probably just waiting for one of my arms to fall off.

I've read somewhere that the lack of sleep also causes lapses in decision-making abilities and depth perception. I'm not particularly worried about the former, as most of our projects are at the point of finishing themselves right now, but the latter has been a constant problem. It's kind of difficult to type when you keep missing the right keys, after all, and the proofreading is tenuous at best when your eyes keep blinking shut.

For that matter, I've also read that long-term sleep deprivation causes hallucinations. I don't think I've reached that stage yet, but I'm expecting it to be obvious once it comes rolling around. (Sorry, folks -- I'm not exactly seeing the pretty colors and the giant purple rabbits yet.) I have, however, been running into a lot of really weird dreams lately; I usually don't have enough strength to try to remember them upon waking, though.

I've realized, of course, that this all might lead to a new source of creative ideas somehow. Lewis Carroll, for example, came up with more than a few character concepts based on the monsters that inhabited his migraine attacks. Guiseppe Tartini once dreamt of the devil playing a violin solo that was so beautiful that he used the experience to compose his piece, "The Devil's Trill".

But then again, the creative income may not really be worth the prospect of incessant migraines and demonic dreams. Or at least, not to me.

Just two more weeks, Sean. Just two more weeks...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Reports Have Been Greatly... Huh?

Yeah, it's true.

The idea somehow scares me, though. Personally, I just wanted a little corner of the web to write on. I assure you that the act of joining the contest was done on pure whim. (Although I'm questioning myself on that right now.)

I have to thank the Philippine Blog Awards for the honor, though, as well as the individuals who have seen this web site as something worth reading. Some people say that they'll be reading as long as I'll be writing; What they don't know is that it's actually the other way around.

I offer congratulations to everyone else involved in the Awards, particularly the other winners, finalists and semi-finalists. I'll drop by your sites when I find the time, yes.

And hey -- if I start acting like one of those elitist celebrity bums, feel free to kick me, okay? It would mean a lot to me. (And to the seat of my pants, too.)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Method to Madness

My posts seem to be getting less and less sane every day, it seems.

I have the feeling that it has something to do with my workload. We're nearing the end of the year now, after all, and the office is in a mad scramble to finish everything before the onset of 2006. What makes things stressful at the moment is that I've had to work with half a staff as opposed to the optimal employee population. (Darn corporate pirates.)

That, and I've spent the last week doing nothing but encoding. You haven't lived till you've had to add little dashes to a listing of a thousand phone numbers, folks.

I suspect that the levels of degradation (if it can be called degradation, that is) are progressive here. The tendency between work stress and blog posts may be proportional: The more frazzled you are, the stranger your writings turn out.

Last November was good to me for some reason; Almost everything I posted then, I think, had a certain modicum of insight that attracted like-minded readers. November, however, coincided with the fact that I had just returned from a three-week vacation in the US, and at that time I was only starting my attack on the piles of work on my desk.

There could have been another factor at hand, though: As I was unable to blog regularly during my October vacation, it's entirely possible that all the pent-up ideas just decided to rush out of my head afterwards. My "less sane" series of posts nowadays could simply be a downtrend; It could be the low that comes after the high, the mundane feeling that comes after the exhilaration has passed, the typhoon that's finally dispersed into the clear blue heavens.

I like the idea that it could be work-related, though. If anything, there's also a certain logic to it: It could be that most of my mind is taken up with all these little project details, and that I haven't had much room to think creatively as a result. Thus, you get a lot of posts on what seem to be a purely random variety of topics. (Plural words? Fashion design? Hand puppets? Monopoly?)

The catch there is that I don't think of the human mind as being finite in this way. There should always be room for one to think creatively, even if it involves conceptualizing an infinite number of rooms in an obviously finite space.

And then there's the idea that I may just be exorcising my inner demons here. I've got a lot of stuff in my head at the moment, ranging from office work to Vin Simbulan's Anthology to book launches to Fully Booked's massive first-prize offering. I could just be working out my frustrations on a bunch of nondescript topics so that people don't notice.

Or, as the Cosmic Joker would probably state, I could just be doing all this on pure whim. Flibbity-floo.

I can do nothing but theorize at the moment, I suppose. When I boil the whole thing down to its base elements, the realization is always the same: I don't know.

It might be best to watch my level of posting over the next few days, I think. I've got to get my head down from the clouds and back into the bounds of sanity. And hey, maybe there's some way to restart the typhoon even after it's already disappeared into the blue horizon.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Atlantic City Economics

The two shadows passed silently through the doorway, dumping his battered body onto an old wooden chair. A moment later, a single bare-bulb light flickered on.

There was a sound much like the clink of coins. He strained to see through swollen eyes and heavy shadows, only to see a familiar figure standing before him. "Uncle Pennybags," he whispered.

The man before him was short and pale and round, looking as though he had always been that way. An ebony top hat balanced on his circular cranium, and his thin white mustache looked sharp enough to cut the skin. A single malevolent monocle glared out at him, hiding the ancient eyes beneath.

"You thought you had everything, did you, kid?" Pennybags circled the chair, eyeing him from every angle. "You thought you could own this city. You thought you could just buy a few properties, a couple of railroads, maybe even the electric company. You thought you could stay out of jail and play the community chest. You thought you could earn your keep putting up those sad little houses and swanky hotels."

"But... but I can pay! I can pay up! Just give me a couple more days..."

"And you'll do what?" Pennybags snarled. "Send some of your people over? You're too late, boy. We got them all: Rolls-Royce, Flat-Iron, Shoe... we got them all. Even if we did have to give old Shoe the once-over. He was a scrapper, wasn't he?"

"But I've got properties! I've still got the deeds! I can mortgage..."

"Too late!" Pennybags growled, kicking the chair out from under him. There was a sodden thump as he landed on the floor and almost blacked out. The light bulb went swinging.

"I... Uncle Pennybags..."

"My name's not Pennybags," the old man said, standing over his body. "I'm Atlantic City. I'm the last man standing here, boy. I'm Mr. Monopoly now."

The only response was the sound of whimpering.

"You're bankrupt, boy," Monopoly said, "and not even the bank can save you this time."

So... has anyone played Monopoly lately? :)

You see, after a long separation from the game, I ran my first session of Monopoly for the first time in almost ten years last Saturday. (This was with Anna, who happened to passing by at the time. Hi, Anna!)

Monopoly's been around since 1935 or so, although we've probably only been introduced to it rather recently. As a game that involves buying up properties across a given game board and developing them without running out of money, it's one of the walking epitomes of capitalism at the moment. Oddly enough, it carries with it some strange level of luck-based strategy, too. (Such insights would have been welcome to a seven-year-old kid who lost constantly to his older cousins, yes.)

After Anna and I were unable to finish the game, I spent a good thirty minutes looking over the game board and counting the various title deed cards. I figured that there had to be a certain mindset and strategy with regards to playing the game (as opposed to just running around the board buying everything in sight). The catch, of course, was that I didn't know what they were.

That is, I didn't know what they were yet. I considered that, after years of serious game-playing experience and informal strategy guides, I could make up a few hypotheses on how to play the game right. Now, I don't intend to play Monopoly to the point where I can crush any opponent who sits across the table, mind you, but I figure that I might as well have some fun testing out these theories.

Of course, personal strategies aren't much fun unless they're shared. So I've conveniently listed down my current hypotheses for Monopoly strategy here, just so that you'll know what I might try to pull off during a game. And hey, you can even try these yourself! (Just make sure to tell me whether or not they actually work. If they don't, then... well... better you than me. Har har.)

On the other hand, if you haven't tried the game yet, you can always leave a comment at the bottom of this article. That way, I'll remember to ensnare you within a session sometime. :)

So... where was I? Oh, yeah, the hypothetical strategies:

1. Favor certain properties.
I read somewhere that, statistically, players stand the highest chance of landing on Illinois Avenue during a game. That implies good returns if one buys Illinois, and even better prospects if one somehow manages to pick up Kentucky and Indiana Avenue as well.

Alternatively, statistics also state that players stand the highest chance of landing on any of the three Orange-colored properties than on any other color set. That means that St. James Place, Tennessee Avenue and New York Avenue may just be prime real estate to a player.

As a personal preference, I've kind of liked the possibility of picking up the Green properties as well (Pacific Avenue, North Carolina Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue) because the astronomical rent you can charge once you get some houses on them. I don't know where they fare with regards to statistics, though.

I think that the Dark Blue properties (Baltic Avenue, Mediterranean Avenue) should be avoided because of the low rent, and that the Blue properties (Park Place, Boardwalk) should be avoided because of their high development cost and low probability of arrivals. Other than that, though, it's purely up to the dice.

2. Know when to hold 'em.
The object of collecting all properties of the same color set is probably at the heart of Monopoly. Any player who manages to do so, you see, earns the right to build structures (houses and hotels) on them, and subsequently charge higher rent to future arrivals.

There's an interesting rule, however, that says that if a player ever lands on an unowned property and refuses to buy it, then that property is turned over to the other players for auction. It might therefore be a good strategy (albeit a possibly expensive one) to buy up certain spaces in order to prevent others from completing their respective color sets.

3. Know when to fold 'em.
The prospect of mortgaging one's properties (i.e. selling them back to the bank in exchange for half their face value) is also probably at the heart of Monopoly. Sooner or later in the game, each player's going to have to scrabble for money or risk bankruptcy, and it'll most likely be tempting to let go of a few idle properties in order to get some much-needed cash.

The twist, of course, involves when exactly one should let go of properties that are preventing opponents from completing their color sets. I think it's a question of timing, really. These things should be held till the last possible second.

4. Track your income.
Each player only has one regular source of income: the "Go" space where they collect $200. Assuming that each player will then have to trudge around the board at least once before they can return to that space, that means that they'll need to make that $200 count.

In the early game, the $200 should probably be spent to collect more properties. In the late game, however, it might be better to hoard the $200 as emergency funding in case one needs to make a nasty payout.

5. Sometimes you'll want to Go to Jail.
This was an odd realization; Jail usually has a very negative connotation for most players. When placed in a situation where you can't move, one's natural instinct is to get the heck out of there as soon as possible.

In the late game, however, I figure that there are some situations where you'll actually welcome going to Jail. I mean, what if the board's a virtual minefield of opponents who want to charge you rent? Staying in a nice cold cell for up to three turns and not moving at all sounds pretty good there.

6. Hoard the houses.
A standard Monopoly set comes with 36 little house tokens and 12 hotel tokens. Interestingly enough, there's an obscure rule that says that the total number of houses on the board can never exceed these maximums, and it goes remarkably well with the building rules.

What building rules? Well, in the game, you can only build a hotel on a property if the place already has four houses -- in which case the hotel replaces all four houses and the rent is substantially increased. If you don't buy hotels, however, you'll end up hogging all the houses -- and you'll also effectively prevent the other players from further upgrading their properties. Nice.

Of course, much like any good set of hypotheses, these ideas can't be tested until the next few times I play the game. Or unless any nice people out there decide to try these out and report the results. :)

I like board games, really. There's a certain attraction when it comes to considering rules and strategy for them. They're like puzzles that aren't presented as puzzles -- rather, they're more like a series of restrictions that challenge one to move about inside. I've found that there's a certain thrill to being able to figure out the fundamental strategies behind a game, which can only be compounded by the possibility that one's opponents may be working under the same tactics and assumptions.

So now... anybody for Boggle? :)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Aaaaaand it's time for another suman latik post.

By now, I'm sure that everyone's noticed that I use the same graphic to introduce the suman latik posts. In case you're wondering, the image is actually the property of the Sassy Lawyer, who has graciously allowed its use for the suman latik webring. There's a second image that used to make the rounds of the webring, but I feel that this particular photograph better communicates the nature of the food.

It's kind of funny how I've used this image at least thirty times over the last seven months without, er... ah, without... er...

...Umm, what's that?


Oh, you know -- that.


You don't see it? It's right there!

Here, I'll show you again:

Geez, you don't see it?

Maybe it's best if I blow up the picture a little bit. Here's an enlargement of the lower left area:

So... do you see it now?


I don't know, really. What do you think?


It's funny, now that I think about it. I've been using this for the last number of months, and it's never occurred to me that somebody would try to sneak a hidden image into the photograph.

Well, usually in these cases you'd expect something offensive, obscene, or just pain weird. I don't think we can really tell what this is yet, though.

Heck, let's enlarge it some more:

What is that, anyway? It looks kind of red-and-blue.

In hindsight, it could just be a technical glitch. It's not as though the image is supposed to have any blue in it. Maybe something went wrong with the digital camera, or maybe it didn't download correctly when I received it.

Still, I think I can enlarge it a little more:

The image is still extremely blurry, isn't it? As good as one's eyesight may be, I don't think anyone can really confirm what it is at this point. At least we know that it's definitely composed of red and blue patches.

I suppose we can try to sharpen the central area to the point where we can get a more solid outline. That might allow us to identify whatever it is, somehow...



So that's where he is. No wonder I couldn't find the little bugger.


All this time. All this time, and he was right underneath my nose. Imagine that.

Well, that's one thing down. Now where's that darn Wizard Whitebeard...

Mysteeeerious. (Much waggling of fingers.)

* "Where's Waldo", Waldo, and the Wizard Whitebeard are owned and copyrighted by Martin Handford, the man whose books cause eyestrain in millions of readers across the world. I'm not kidding, folks -- do you have any idea how hard it is to find an image of Waldo on the internet? The image of Waldo here is used purely for purposes of parody... although if they want to sue me, they gotta find me first. :)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Talk to the Hand

I picked up a little panda-shaped hand-puppet at the bazaar last Sunday. A bunch of high schoolers were selling stuffed toys as part of their Economics project, you see.

I'm not sure what it's made of, but it feels relatively fragile (like it was made in China or something), and it's not very comfortable if you leave your hand inside it for too long. It seems versatile enough to make more than a few rudimentary hand-puppet gestures, though.

I wonder if I should name it. You might say, after all, that it's my new right-hand man.



Okay, so that was a bad pun. But still, I'm considering naming it.

I don't know what to call it yet, though. Perhaps a good moniker will come to mind within the next few weeks.

Come to think of it, the panda might make for an interesting gimmick at the launching next Saturday night...

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Paper Doll: A Study in Red

There's an interesting contest up at Jac's blog for this month, and, well, let's just say that it falls somewhere in the realm of the unexpected:

Image hosted by
Starting NOW I'm holding a Dress Up PILYA contest! Just download this art here and design something for her to wear (like a paper doll?) this Christmas.

I'll award the best design a free, one of a kind, PILYA t-shirt!!! Custom-made for the winner!

Geez... she's a well-formed woman, isn't she? :)

I can live without the prize, mind you -- I can't remember the last time I pulled on a t-shirt -- but the prospect of dressing up somebody else's creation felt too good to resist.

A lot of people know that I write, but not many people know that I can draw to a certain degree. My skills aren't along the lines of the typical comics artist, but I think I can run a pencil along paper and not embarrass myself too much. Every now and then, when I have ideas that don't seem to be appropriate enough to write, I put my conceptualizations down on a small sketch pad; I find that this approach has helped me visualize more than a few characters over the last few years.

In addition to that, I still retain many of my skills in Adobe Photoshop (as evidenced in an earlier blog post,"The Resurrection of Dame Elemen"), and I think I can probably edit images with the best of 'em. Throw in a passing interest in fashion design, and you have a scenario that's about as made-to-order as you can probably get.

I never expected to end up playing with paper dolls in this way, but I figured that the opportunity was too good to miss. Since then, I've sat at my computer in bouts of two or three hours each, doing nothing but work with lines and paths.

Usually, when dressing a character, I first ask myself who the character is and what impression she is likely to give people. From there, I move to personality and motivation. General looks, combination and color come last. I'm of the opinion that clothes (or armor or such) should be at least vaguely functional as well as practical, and I'm unlikely to have a character wear anything on impulse.

I don't know much about Jac's character here, although I do know that she has no name at the moment. For the sake of this article, let's call her "Ada". (I don't know why; These names just pop into in my head for some reason.)

In the Pilya strips that Jac has posted, I believe that Ada has given people the impression that she's the extroverted, outgoing type. She wears a lot of revealing clothes, has one of the most unsubtle of jobs (she once appeared in a Playboy-bunny-type outfit as the "entertainment" for a bachelor party), and tends to say things that people don't expect. I feel almost certain that, if she would wear anything, it wouldn't leave much to the (male) imagination.

With regards to personality, Ada seems like a fun-loving, take-life-as-it-comes-along kind of person. She's forgetful at times. She can easily be seductive when she wants to. She appears to have an active sex life. She speaks her mind, often saying things without thinking about them first (or perhaps she simply says these things just to see what reaction she gets). She dresses in much the same way, I think -- what kind of person would wear an extremely short, revealing gothic dress to a wedding?

On the looks side, I've had to take note of quite a few elements: Ada has reddish-brown hair. Ada has some really beautiful green eyes. Ada has a mole on her lower right chin. And, as I realized with the "model" picture above, Ada has a pierced navel and really long legs.

Given these inferences, what would Ada probably wear for Christmas?

The first thing I concluded was: "She'd probably vamp it up."

I wanted Ada to wear something respectable for Christmas, so I thought of a sport jacket -- I feel that it's a nice, sensible formal outfit. I wanted it to be red, to go with the color of her hair and possibly accentuate her green eyes. I thought of a red sport jacket and black pants, and the image appeared to fit her.

The problem, of course, is that Ada doesn't quite act the part of a quiet, respectable woman. In fact, I would imagine that she walks into a room and becomes the absolute center of attention there. The amount of exposed skin would probably have something to do with that. Ada would wear the red sport jacket, but she'd wear it in such a way as to leave little to the imagination.

The solution, I think, was easy: Increase the cleavage, and remove any notion of a bra. That's non-subtlety for you.

After a few studies, I figured that the neck and upper chest area looked a little bare (yes, that was the point, but still...), so I debated adding something there. The blue pendant was a final touch, but I was uncertain as to whether or not Ada would be the type of person who would wear one with such an outfit. I still have the original raw file with me, however, so I suppose I can make a few changes if needed.

In any event, this is what I ended up with:

Image hosted by

Personally, I like how it turned out. The clothes seem to blend in well with the vestiges of the original drawing. I figure that I can probably do better, though, and that's why I'm watching the Lifestyle channel, sifting through fashion magazines and Calvin Klein ads, and generally sitting at the computer for periods of two or three hours again.

If I do come up with anything else, I'll see if I can post it up here. This is an oddly compelling exercise...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Disclaimer: December 2005

No, I think that this blog has a long way to go before it can be considered a good source of reading. It has its hits right now, but it's still got its misses.

It may not be immediately obvious, but writing original blog entries isn't exactly an effortless endeavor. I perform bits of research, spend hours selecting the right words, and proofread everything just to present each article to an audience who may or may not appreciate it. I even go as far as to assure people that everything here is original except where noted, and I'll always cite external sources wherever they lie.

Just because a certain article on this blog fits your personal taste, assignment, project or thesis perfectly doesn't mean that you can automatically use it. These writings are wide open for public consumption, but there's a big difference between reading something and appropriating it for your own use. Big, big difference there.

Now, if you would take the time to just ask, then that would be a lot better. I like people who have enough sense to ask permission; A lot of people do, I think. You're likely to get what you want that way, and all it'll require is a small amount of your patience.

If you decide to just up and steal my stuff, though, then that's when I'd start shaking my head and muttering the occasional silent epithet. I feel that each and every man has the capability to produce their own completely original masterpieces in one way or another. By choosing to just take other people's stuff as opposed to creating them on your own, you indicate that you're too darn lazy to achieve your own little bit of greatness.

That makes me sad. It's a sad, sad, sad situation there. Why ya gotta do dis ta yousself, Johnny? You know I've been real good to ya.

Of course, after the moment of sadness passes, then that's when I go to the corner and grab my baseball bat. If you're going to steal something from here and pass it off as your own work, after all, then you might as well have every single drop of blood, toil, tears and sweat that I put into it. And believe me, I'm going to thoroughly enjoy giving you every last bit.

That, and it would make for a nice story, too.

Ain't violence sexy sometimes?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In Multiples

Anyone out there know what the plural of "suman" is?

"Sumans"? "Sumen"? "Sumani"?

I really hate linguistic dilemmas like this. You'd expect there to be a simple rule governing this aspect of the English language (despite the fact that "suman" is a Tagalog word), as opposed to having to waste precious time debating plural forms.

The normal rule for plurals involves adding an "s" to the end of the word: One computer, two computers. One composition, two compositions. One Sean, two Seans.

The normal rule doesn't make sense, however, when it comes to words that already end in an "s". So the English language has an exception to the basic rule, in that pluralizing such a word requires an "es" instead: One dress, two dresses. One sinus, two sinuses. One sassafrass, two sassafrasses.

Then there's another exception: What about words that end in a "y"? By some strange linguistic quality, we convinced ourselves that anything ending in a "y" could be pluralized by removing the offending letter and tacking on an "ies": One symphony, two symphonies. One parity, two parities. One pigsty, two pigsties.

But then, heaven forbid that we fall into the use of the word "monkeies". That third rule therefore has an addendum, and it states that any word that ends in "(vowel)+y" only needs to have an "s" added to the end: One monkey, two monkeys. One foray, two forays. One Bed-Stuy, Two Bed-Stuys.

Oh, no... you're not getting away that easy. Sit down; I'm not done yet.

There's the question of words that end in an "o", for which there seems to be no general distinction between "s" and "es" usages. Instead, we've seen fit to let the plural forms of these words run amuck: One zoo, two zoos. One hero, two heroes. One tornado, two tornados/tornadoes (either will do, yes).

The short list of words ending in "f" or "fe", for that matter, haven't been spared: One dwarf, two dwarves. One life, two lives. One staff, two staves. However, some words still buck this aspect of English linguistic law: One handkerchief, two handkerchiefs.

Then, there just to push us even closer to the brink of madness, I must bring up the exceptional exceptions: One man, two men. (One can, two cen?) One mouse, two mice. (One house, two hice?) One ox, two oxen. (One strongbox, two strongboxen?)

There are also a number of advanced English words that seem to follow their own set of customized rules for plurality. I used to believe that anything ending in "us", for example, could be pluralized by changing the last two letters to "i": One radius, two radii. One stimulus, two stimuli. One homunculus, two homunculi. Then I ran into one of the many words found in every technical person's vocabulary: One virus, two viruses.

Still reading? Good.

There are other words that are more well-known for their plural than their singular forms, and these are a source of frustration for me. Did you know, for example, that anything that ends in "um" gets pluralized by replacing the last two letters with "a"? I do now, and I can't say it's a favorite: One datum, two data. One arcanum, two arcana. This even has a significant number of exceptions on its own: One cranium, two craniums. One mum, two mums. Heck, sometimes we can't even make up our own minds: One symposium, two symposia/symposiums.

There's another rule that anything ending in "(vowel)+x" can be pluralized by cutting off the last two letters and appending "ices": One matrix, two matrices. One index, two indices. And yet we somehow still find a way to assure ourselves of the need for exception here: One sex, two sexes.

There's a rule that anything ending in "is" has to have the ending changed to "es": One parenthesis, two parentheses. Again, however, an exception: One ibis, two ibises.

Anything ending in "a" can be pluralized by adding an "e" to the end: One antenna, two antennae. And yet we're familiar with: One idea, two ideas.

Sometimes we run into words that are so obscure that their plurals (or associated singulars) never come up in normal conversation: One grafitto, two grafitti. One seraph, two seraphim. One coccyx, two coccyges. One die, two dice.

Then there are the words that stay exactly the same in both forms: One sheep, two sheep, three sheep, four sheep, five sheep, six.

And now, having gone through three years' worth of grammar lessons in one sitting, we still have no solution for our original dilemma: One suman, two... er... what?

Sometimes I fear for the English language. Sometimes I even wonder how so many people from so many other places can find some way to become adept enough at its use to speak or write for a living. Looking at everything right now, I feel it's kind of obvious that the language is more screwed up than we think.

So what's the plural of suman? I don't know. I'll probably just go back to using "one piece of suman, two pieces of suman". At least that doesn't necessitate the oncoming headache.

Now if I only knew what to do with the word "equipment". One equipment, two...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Three times a year, the crushing weight of deadlines imposes itself upon my office, generally rolling over everything in its path and turning our best efforts into mush. Three times a year, we enter "business hell", which happens to be our affectionate name for the weeks upon weeks of insane pressure, endless coding and unpaid overtime.

December is the most obvious of those times, and for good reason. At the end of each year, everyone's expected to produce their strategies and offerings for the next 365 days. Because I happen to work as a manager in a web development firm, this usually means that I end up minding not only our own end-of-year concerns, but our clients' as well.

I've actually got a strange brew of projects on my desk at the moment: There's an electronics manufacturer there as well as a royalty-sourced insurance company, a religious sect, an oil and gas magnate, two grassroots software firms and even the odd French businessman. All of them have one thing in common, and it's the fact that they're all breathing down my neck.

I suppose that, in exchange for this kind of pressure, our employers usually ply us with the usual Christmas "gifts": assorted giveaways, a fat salary bonus, and an end-of-year party that everybody attends for fear of offending their respective bosses. My company usually stuffs us with the first two items sometime in the tail end of November; I suspect that it's so that we can't complain about the extra workload next month.

Personally, I just want some extra sleep. This is probably one of the few times of the year where I won't complain about the occasional holiday.

By some strange combination of factors, I find myself almost fully booked for the next month. I'm helping to run a bazaar* this weekend, I'm dropping by a book launch next Saturday, and in the intervening days I'll be expected to greet, converse with, and kowtow to a number of visiting relatives. That's the holiday season for you, I think.

It almost makes you want to strip down to your underwear and run screaming through the streets.


I'm not going to do it, mind you, but you're perfectly welcome to do so.

Hey, it's not as though I'm the only person who's trudging through the swamp of holidays. I figure that you're probably going through the same thing, and it does my heart glad to know that we're all in this together.

Er... we are, right?





Ah, fine. You're all lazy bums, anyway.

See if I care when you find yourself sitting in a tub of jello and gift-wrapping paper, holding a rubber gun to the head of a plastic Santa toy and screaming "Don't eat the gingerbread! Don't eat the gingerbread!"

Then again, if that ever happens, I'll probably be there holding the camera.

Where was I again?


* That's the Xavier School Wish Bazaar, taking place at Xavier School in San Juan, Metro Manila on December 3 and 4, 2005. Do drop by -- there's going to be an Adidas warehouse sale (minus the warehouse, of course), a peewee basketball game (you ain't seen nothing till you've seen a bunch of three-year-olds mount a decent offense), and some weird oik sitting at the gaming tables (the only man in the world who loses badly at Pokémon -- that's me). Just remember not to feed the animals (me again), and you'll be fine.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Yes, But is it Good?

By some nasty quirk of fate, my college blockmates were able to find out that one of my short stories will be appearing in Dean Alfar's 1st Philippine Speculative Fiction Anthology. True to form, they wheedled me to the point where I couldn't really lie about the whole thing:

It's getting launched on December 10, actually. It's one of the three books getting released in a 6:30 affair at Fully Booked in Greenhills.

You're welcome to pass by, although I'd recommend just buying the book and telling me whether you liked the story or not. :)

Consequently, one of the responses I received from the mailing list went as follows:

I might not be able to pass by on December 10. But I will try to pick up the book when I come across it. I'm sure the story is good. You wouldn't allow it to get published if it wasn't.


I can't help but think that that's more than a little optimistic.

That's not to say that I don't appreciate the gesture. In fact, I do appreciate it, and I'm happy to see that my writing actually does get a bit of support in some quarters.

But that's where the hitch comes in: I don't know if the story's good or not.

It might sound strange, yes, but that's how I look at it: I don't know if the story's good or not. Ergo, I may or may not believe that it's good enough to get published. All that matters to me is that I was able to write the silly thing, and if somebody out there thinks that it's good enough to print, then so much the better: I get access to more people who can tell me what they think.

But to say that it's in the anthology because I thought that it was good enough to go into the anthology? Absolute hooey. When Dean Alfar's deadline came about, it was the only five-thousand word story I had that contained the slightest bit of redeemability. I believe that that's the only reason why I sent it in when I did.

I hoped that it would make it, of course. You don't submit works like these without some sliver of expectation that they might make it to the final volume. But if I were to tell you that I thought it was an incredible piece of work to begin with, then I'd be lying.

I think that we all eventually have to face a certain truth: No matter how good we think our writings are, our opinion doesn't mean squat when it comes to the tastes of the general public. We can have what we think is the greatest plotline in the world, the best characters ever conceived and the most profound setting that can ever be imagined, and that still won't protect us from the erstwhile critics who accuse us of being "cliché", "wordy", "simple", or even the inevitable "boring".

We just write, darn it. We write, we turn in our works, and we wait for a response. If by some miracle it turns out that our stuff is worthy of being published, then that doesn't mean that we're good. It means that we just happened to do something right.

Writing, unfortunately, isn't a matter of thinking that you're good at this sort of thing. Writing is a constant struggle: You don't merely want one of your works to get published and praised, you want a whole slew of your works getting published and praised. You want a straight string of hits. You want to know what makes your style readable. You want to know how to get into the groove and stay there.

The big guns -- the authors and artists we all know, love and admire -- all probably know this. They may have six or seven straight bestsellers, Academy awards or platinum records to their name, but if their next work tanks, then it tanks. It's JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion. It's Halle Berry's Catwoman. It's Michael Jackson's Invincible.

We just write, ladies and gentlemen. That, I believe, is the truth at its core.

We write, and of course, we anxiously wait -- to see what the audience thinks of us this time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

By the Numbers

27 - Total posts for the Suman Latik webring on this blog. (Counting this one.)

11 - Highest number of comments for a Suman post on this blog.

55 - Verses in The Book of Suman. (All with their corresponding superscripts.)

199 - Number of days since Dean Alfar's "Suman Latik" comment at the 1st Philippine iBlog Summit, the event that indirectly touched off these writings.

3 - Pieces of suman actually consumed by Sean since May 2005.

16,829 - Total words in all Suman posts combined.

53 - Total number of times the word "blah" has appeared in a Suman post.

2 - Average number of hours it takes for Sean to write a Suman Latik post.

4 - Number of people who have asked Sean "What's with the suman?" since May 2005.

4 - Number of times Sean has had to stifle a tasteless response to the question "What's with the suman?" since May 2005.

3 - Number of times Sean has pledged to give up writing about suman.

0 - Number of times Sean has missed a regular weekly Suman post. (I was following the appropriate timezones in the US, yes.)

0 - Number of monkeys Sean owns. (He does, however, own one typewriter.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fear of God

"Happy are those who fear the Lord."

I was attending a wedding last Saturday afternoon when the above responsorial psalm took me aback. It's not an altogether nice combination of words; I mean, when was the last time you saw both "happy" and "fear" in the same sentence?

I don't have a good relationship with organized religion. I think it's because I keep asking questions that never receive any solid answers. Almost every religious discussion in which I've been involved has turned out unsatisfying for all parties: I end up unsatisfied because I don't get any responses that justify the common aspects of modern faith, and my fellow conversationalists end up unsatisfied because they can't seem to supplement my understanding. Or, failing that, they usually seem to get angry at me, which I find to be a very un-Christian way of dealing with things.

With that background out of the way, you can probably see why I felt that the above phrase was more than a little disconcerting. Doesn't the emotion of fear imply feelings of apprehension, dread, and anxiousness? If so, how is it possible for a man to be happy at a point where he still fears an certain entity? And if we proceed along this line of thought, is it therefore appropriate that Christians feel terror at the presence of God?

Yes, this most definitely does not sound right.

I'm aware of a lot of literal definitions of the "fear" of God, and none of the connotations are good. Conversion by the sword, for example, was common in the Middle Ages: You either converted to the Christian faith, or you were killed. The Spanish Inquisition instilled a fear of torture in the free-thinking masses, under the guise of rooting out the heretic and the seditious. Even now, there are more than a few modern Christians who threaten that you will go to hell if you go against the local religious or moral practices. There are all too many incidences where "the fear of God" often translates into "the fear of pain", or "the fear of rebuke".

This feels wrong somehow. I don't want to be afraid of God, after all; It implies that he's looking to harm me in some way.

Let me consider, then: I am aware of God. I am aware of God's presence. I believe in his kindness and benevolence, and I believe that he sent his son to die for our sins (unconditionally the heaviest of all sacrifices). I believe that God is just and forgiving, that he sees what lies in each and every one of our hearts, and that on a great and final day, he will return for the last of the people worthy enough to enter his kingdom of heaven. I believe that the Bible houses the word of God, and that its writings were created by the divine source through human authors. And as a Roman Catholic: I stand by the institution of the church, I hold faith in the sacraments, and I trust in the infallibility of the Pope.

If anything, I hold respect for God. I'm refuse to be afraid of him as the pagan communities once were before sword-wielding crusaders, as philosophers and theologians were before the knives of Torquemada, or as little children before a well-meaning but misunderstanding parent. That would imply that I believe in God out of a mere desire to save my own skin. I don't.

So why, then, do we have such a concept as "God-fearing"?

Webster defines fear as "an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger", and I'm not surprised there. I mean, it conveniently covers what we've discussed so far.

Interestingly enough, however, Webster also defines fear as "profound reverence and awe especially toward God", a definition that is echoed in a number of Catholic dictionaries as well. So there is a way to interpret the "God-fearing" concept without bringing to mind images of terror and subjugation, it seems.

The second definition also makes sense: God may not necessarily inspire feelings of terror in us, but I figure that God most definitely inspires feelings of reverence in his corresponding believers. We don't fear God in the sense that he frightens the heck out of us; We fear God in the sense that he is an omnipotent, omniscient entity. In this way, I think, the act of fearing God implies an acknowledgement of his incredible self, which is a far cry from seeing him as a spiritual bully.

The whole discussion, however, still makes me wonder why so many people continue to utilize God as a threat. Preachers still throw fire and brimstone from their pulpits. Fundamentalists attack other religions in the name of faith. We even get snatches of it in the common vernacular: "Go to Hell!" and "May God strike me down!" are two of the more familiar phrases.

Does the prospect of going to hell scare us? Perhaps. It doesn't take a genius to see what's scary about the possibility of drowning in a lake of fire for the rest of eternity. (And that's only one of the many different interpretations of hell, to boot.)

But does the threat of going to hell justify placing one's faith in God? I kind of doubt that. If the man-on-the-street tells me that God is going to send me to hell because I don't go to church on Sundays, then I'll be more likely to strike back at him than listen. Actions like that hurt faith in a lot of ways.

Happy are those who fear the Lord? I don't think so. Any man who is instilled with the terror of God gives me the impression of a cornered animal, ready to lash out at anybody and everybody.

I think that the responsorial was supposed to be "Happy are those who fear in the Lord", which drives home the point of reverence and awe that the phrase is supposed to express. Any believer who holds the fact that God is all-encompassing, that God is at his side for every hour of every day, is obviously happy. We bask in the glory of God; we don't cower at his iron-fisted might.

What a difference a word makes, eh?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

One Wednesday Evening

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The lesson for today, kids? Don't leave the digital camera lying around the house.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Approach

In response to Clair's article last week about searching for a feasible suman story idea, I posted the following:

A good start might involve determining exactly what part you want suman to play in the final product. Do you want it as background filler, for example? Do you want the main characters to mull over a plate of it? Do you want the suman to be the main character itself?

From there, you just ask yourself “Why?” and then come up with a reason. Why would two men meet in a darkened restaurant with a plate of suman between the two of them? Why would suman be banned during a specific barrio fiesta? Why would an uncle bring a basket of suman to a small family gathering?

Once you have the initial scene and setting firmly in place, you can then ask yourself “What happens?”, and finally kick the story into gear…

About two-and-a-half hours later, my comment elicited the following response from Raichu:

if that were the case, the suman becomes nothing more than a stage prop. if that’s what you really wanted, go for it.

Yes, he's right. A little blunt, yes, but I believe he's right.

I am aware that there's a danger of relegating the suman element to nothing more than a prop. However, I feel that it is also possible to emphasize the suman element in a story to a degree that it becomes much more than a prop. That's how suman stories come into being, after all.

In these situations, I tend to subscribe to a "Why?" approach because it forces me to answer a lot of questions regarding character, scenery and background. Asking oneself the "Why?" question, I think, forces the mind to work by conjuring a logical setup for the given scene. Whether or not suman figures prominently into the setup is a matter left to the author herself.

It all depends on the approach, and I figure that it might be best if I clarified that here.

Let's take that first scene posted above: Two men meet in a darkened restaurant with a plate of suman between them. There are a lot of questions that can be asked, given that scenario alone.

The more obvious ones:
- Why are they in a restaurant?
- Why is the restaurant dark?
- Why are they sharing a plate of suman?

The less obvious ones:
- Who are these two men?
- What are they talking about?
- What's the name of the restaurant?
- Where is the restaurant located?
- When does their meeting take place?

The really less obvious ones:
- What do the men do for a living?
- What relationship do the two men have to each other?
- Do they even know each other?
- What are they wearing?
- Are they both male?
- Are they human?
- Did they order the suman from the restaurant?
- Do they want to eat the suman?
- Is the restaurant operational?
- Are they waiting for anyone?
- Is it night?
- Is this all just a dream?

There are a lot of questions to answer, yes. And any one of them can trigger a story.

Let's take one at random, then: Where is the restaurant located?

Strangely, the first thing that comes to my mind here is "Berlin":

"And you zay," Gerhardt said, "that zis is a food in your country?"

"Yeah," Benedict answered. "We usually have it in December."

"Because it's cold zere?"

Benedict scratched his head. "No... we don't have winter in the Philippines. I don't know why we have it a lot every Christmas, actually. We just always have."

"Ja, ja," Gerhardt said, turning to explain something to the couple seated across from them. After a short conversation, he raised one hand and pointed at the tiny piece of suman.

"Rice... and, ah... coconut zauce?" Gerhardt said, finding the word unfamiliar.

One might as well answer any one of the questions in this way.

Is it night? No -- maybe it's daytime, and the open-air restaurant is dark because generations of air pollution have finally blotted out the sun's light. The two men are Philippine scientists discussing their proposal to reverse the process. They're digging into a plate of suman, a rarity in their time because most of the world's crops are already in the process of dying out.

Do they want to eat the suman? No -- the suman is laced with a deadly poison. The two men, who are government investigators, are just there to inspect the product, which was provided to them by one of their toxicologist partners. Two days earlier, an entire shipment of the same suman was responsible for over a hundred cases of severe food poisoning in what was termed the largest product-tampering case in the Philippines. The two men must locate the source of the poisoned suman before the perpetrators strike again.

Now, then: Which of the above three scenarios best exemplifies a suman story?

The first one -- Suman in Berlin -- looks reasonable. We find a character named Benedict, after all, in the middle of explaining the concept of suman to Gerhardt, his German acquaintance. If Benedict and Gerhardt manage to hold on to their topic for an entire narrative, then I'll argue that that would constitute a suman story. If they eventually move on to other things -- Benedict's tenure in Berlin, Gerhardt's love for horticulture, the nuances of German-Filipino translation -- then the suman becomes nothing more than a minor background element.

The second one -- The Lost Sun -- doesn't feel like a suman story at first glance. After all, it appears to focus more on the struggle to regain the sun's light through technological means, as well as the human factor involved. But we haven't heard (or told) the whole story yet. For all we know, the plate of suman in front of them becomes a factor. Maybe suman becomes essential to the scientists' proposal in some way. Maybe the suman becomes an important piece of symbolism for the story itself. We can't necessarily dismiss the fact that their suman automatically becomes a mere stage prop here.

And now, I believe we can see that the third one -- Poisoned Suman -- can probably go both ways. The investigators could follow a trail of suman poisonings all the way to a criminal who has an unhealthy fixation with the glutinous rice snack. Or the suman could just as well be an incidental -- the perpetrator has a lot of other foods at his disposal, after all.

It all depends on the approach.

There are many questions you can ask, based on a given scene. If you want to write a story where your little piece of suman won't be nothing more than a stage prop, then you just have to look at the right questions. You just have to give the right answers and follow the right directions.

Yes, it's not as easy as it looks. No one ever said that conceptualization and writing were easy.

If you want to write a suman story, you've got to do things just right. But exactly how you will go about doing it will be up to you.

In brightest day.