Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Zwarte Piet" - Black Pete. Sinterklaas has tons of them to help him distribute gifts and goodies among the children... Posted by Picasa

Sinterklaas and NL

Well, a couple of weeks ago, the good saint set foot in The Netherlands. After a long journey by steamboat, he finally docked in one of the bigger cities. Since then, he's been making regular appearances on the telly with a host of black petes in attendance who all can sing, can dance and are into being cool.

Funny how adults will perpetrate the myth and go to any lengths to keep their kids believing in this man. Parents who tell their kids that it's just a dress-up guy are considered terrible people by other parents who tell their kids that he is really real.

Of course, at a certain age, children do discover that Sinterklaas isn't real and that all along it was Mom and Dad who put goodies in the shoes they set before the door.

The danger of perpetrating the myth is that kids do go to their parents and confront them with their lies and my sewing teacher told us yesterday that when her grandson discovered Sinterklaas wasn't real as his parents had been telling him all along, he refused to pray and to believe in God, because he said God must also be a lie like Sinterklaas.

Legend goes that this good man was born in Turkey and for some reason immigrated to Spain and from Spain he travelled to The Netherlands with a shipload of goodies, sweets and toys for kids over here. Long ago, when life wasn't as modern as it is today, Sinterklaas gave goodies and gifts only to kiddies who had been on their best behaviour. The black petes were actually quite scary creatures who, according to my mother-in-law, kidnapped bad children, stuffed them in a sack and took them back to Spain where they existed on only bread and butter until they learned how to be good.

Well, I can see how effective that story can be around this time of year. Threaten your child with no toys in his shoe and Sinterklaas not having his name on the good list, and you're bound to see a child who will do almost anything their Mommies will ask them to do.

Today, Black Pete has been transformed into a hiphop, cool fellow who helps the good saint and loves kids and who distributes sweets and cookies to every child in sight.

While I enjoy the feast, I don't believe in perpetrating the myth. I told Joel a long time ago that this fellow is just a dress-up guy and that Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas was indeed a good man who lived long ago. So, this fellow in that red cape is just someone who carries on the tradition of giftgiving that the original Sinterklaas gave birth to.

My husband does not agree with me telling this to my son. He thinks we shouldn't interfere with a child's belief.

As for Joel, he's been figuring things out for himself. He's been asking me questions about the good saint's existence, about miracles and wonders, questioning how we can know if something is real or not.

The other night, he told me that God is real and more powerful than Sinterklaas. I think that somewhere in the back of his head, he does know that Sinterklaas is just a dress-up guy. But right now, it's just too much fun to keep on believing. To keep on hoping and expecting for the unexpected surprises that show up in his shoe.

Part of the festivities is this, Sinterklaas's helpers distribute goodies and sweets among the kiddies. Here's Joel with his hands open, watching Sinterklaas, and waiting for the sweets to fall into his hands. Posted by Picasa

The good saint has arrived! Everyone flocks around to catch sight of him. Grown-ups may know he's just a dress-up guy, but to the kids this guy is totally real. Posted by Picasa

Joel watching the arrival of the boat bringing Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten ( black petes ).  Posted by Picasa

Good Saint Nicholas visits The Netherlands every year. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 27, 2005

My Lovely Icon

Posting the winner icon onto my blog. Yes, I made it across the 50,000 word line. Me, sitting here with a big smile on my face. So, this is why people are so enthusiastic about nanowrimo.

I've shelved the story away for when nanoedmo comes along. Gone back to working on my tribal story which is coming along surprisingly well. So, the advice I've gathered from the forum is true. If a story you're working on stumps you and starts to lose its freshness, the best thing to do is shelve it for a while, and go write something else.

It's amazing to come back to a piece that's lost all its excitement only to discover the story lurking under the layers of infodumping.

Story continues to fascinate me. Yes, I am fascinated by stories and by storytellers who can tell a story well.

Separate from myself being a writer, I find the process stories go through interesting. Watching a piece evolve from a short reflection into a short, then into a novella and from a novella into a novel, amazes me.

As I progress in my journey as a scribe, I cannot help but admire writers who are committed and dedicated to the craft.

My wish is to bring all these wonderful writers to the attention of the public eye, to let people know that if not for these people who are dedicated to honing stories that touch and challenge us, we would not have legends to pass on to the next generation.

Wishes they say are the seeds of things to come. This is me, planting my wish seed.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Luisa Igloria talks about writing and her latest poetry collection

Visit my latest column on The Sword Review . This column is a result of a telephone interview that I did with Luisa Igloria, author of Trill and Mordent.

Trill and Mordent is published by WordTech Communications and is also available from Amazon .

The poems in Trill and Mordent, make me look up and see how life, in the face of danger and fear, can be so achingly beautiful.

Thinking about Trill and Mordent and Luisa's musical background, I remember my mother telling me the difference between someone who can play a musical instrument and a real musician.

"Real music," my mother said, "is played from the heart. It's not music until it moves the listener."

My mother was an exacting piano teacher, who would not be satisfied until she could hear the emotion ringing through the notes, and I remember being so exasperated when after hours of practice, it still wasn't enough.

Later on, I understood why she kept on saying this. Perhaps it comes from years of hearing the same advice, but I have to agree with my mom, without the feeling, it would just be a collection of notes. That also goes for words on a page, when a poem or a story ceases to move the reader, it becomes merely a collection of words and letters.

Reading Trill and Mordent is like listening to a virtuouso pianist playing on the piano. There is so much beauty there, that this reader has to confess to being moved to tears.

The link to the interview is here:

  • A talk with Luisa Igloria

  • Enjoy :)

    Thursday, November 24, 2005

    Three Poems

    In August, Poetry Life and Times published three of my poems. I've added the link to the page where they appear on the side bar. You can also visit it by clicking on
  • here
  • Wednesday, November 23, 2005

    Living in NL


    If there is one thing that's bound to attract a Dutchwoman, it's that word. Sale. There are several versions of the Sale over here. There are the mid-season sale, the after-season sale, the special sale night, and special customer's sale night, and then there are those signs that say: Uitverkoop (everything has to go) and Faillisements uitverkoop (bankruptcy sale). These last two are guaranteed to draw hordes of women and sometimes even men. During the regular season when none of the above sales apply, an establishment with a 20% sign on the door is bound to attract customers by the droves.

    So that's where I went this evening. It seemed like the perfect event to go and celebrate my crossing the 50,000 word line for nanowrimo.

    Here in Bodegraven, we have this one small superstore which sells everything from bike tires to garden tools, baby clothes, underwear, bijoux, shampoo, soap and just about anything you can think to use in and around the house.

    The sale started at 6.30 in the evening and at seven there was a really long line waiting for their turn at the cashier's table. There were so many people in that store, and the Bodegraven version of this superstore is not that big at all,it was pretty difficult to figure out where things like photo albums were. And yes, I did buy one photo album, although I was thinking of buying more. The reason behind this was they were all gone...well, the ones I wanted were all gone, except the one.

    Outside, there was a stall with all sorts of Christmas decorations for sale. Really nice, and oh so tempting...but I kept thinking of that Christmas wreath that I still have stocked away in my closet somewhere and all the Christmas balls we've managed to collect thru the seven years of our marriage and I said no to all the lovely, shiny, tinselly things.

    When I finally unloaded my loot at home, I was quite surprised to discover that I hadn't bought much more than I'd intended to buy anyway. Which probably says a great deal about how I've changed in terms of no longer giving in to impulse buying.

    Sometime ago, I reflected on impulse buying and what it is that makes people shopaholics. I certainly used to be one. When I first came to the Netherlands shopping seemed to be the one comforting thing I did. It somehow gave me a sense of being a part of something, as if by purchasing an object I gained affirmation of my presence in this society.

    This longing for affirmation and connection is hard for people to comprehend who have never left their hometown or lived anywhere else but here. In many ways, there is a sense of dividedness that remains with many of us who have left home to build a new life here. We are exiles by choice, but still exiles. Because of the high cost of living and the exorbitant ticket rates, we still feel really blessed when we can go and visit our families at least once every other year. I don't know if a Dutchman will ever truly understand this feeling.

    When someone asks me how long I've lived in the Netherlands, and I tell them I've been here for seven years, they always assume that by this time, all longing for home has ceased to be as fervent as it was in the first year I lived here. But the longing for home never lessens. We push it to the back of our minds, but it is always there, stalking our dreams and our days.

    Emotion is a terrain that makes a lot of Dutch people uncomfortable, and while you get to know many of them, getting down to the real person takes so much time...there is this constant wall that hits you in the face, everytime you try to cross over into friendship. As if the naked truth of me is too much for them to take. So, I learned to shut up and not talk about what moves me because not everyone can take that...

    But maybe it is a sort of defense mechanism. I've noticed that most dutch people seem to be really self-reliant. Where in the Philippines, we wouldn't hesitate to call on our friends and neighbors in our time of need, here that seems to be no-no.
    I wonder whether opening doors is terrifying for them because it does mean letting go and allowing themselves to be vulnerable.

    I have to think back to a conversation I had with one of my neighbors, wherein talking about God and the way she sees him. She said : "But I don't really see why I need him. Yes, I know he is there, but my life is going well and I have everything I need. Why do I need him?"

    This to me sums up the general attitude of the middle class and well-to-do Dutch society. This is a generation that has never known want or need. They have grown up knowing and believing that they are self-sufficient. So, if they don't feel they need God, how much more do you think they'll feel that they need someone like me?

    For my part, I am made constantly aware of my need for God and my need for community and fellowship and friendship. It's not easy building bridges, it's not easy breaking down walls, but no one ever grew a tree in one day either...

    Tuesday, November 22, 2005

    Character any day...

    Tonight we had a talk with Joel's teachers. This is a regular once every quarter parent-teacher talk where we get to discuss his progress and what we can do to help him in problem areas.

    While Joel Jan has many strengths, his fine motor skills need some finetuning. This means more time spent doing jobs that require use of fine motor skills...like maybe building something with his Father or doing chores around the house with me.

    Fine motor skills are what children use to color pictures nicely and write their names and their notes neatly. Joel hasn't got the hang of this yet and it affects his performance because coloring something in takes too much time and concentration.

    On a positive note, his teachers told us that he has a great character. In their words: Hij is gezellig, leuk om te hebben in de klas, betrokken, aardig, lief, en zorgzaam. In other words: He is funloving, they enjoy having him in the class, he's involved in everything, he's kind, and sweet, caring and gentle.

    Between character and know-how, I'd choose character any day. Know-how, he can pick up as he grows older, character that's what he has today and what he's going to build on for tomorrow.

    Monday, November 21, 2005

    reflecting on the 40,000th word

    On passing the 40,000 word mark. I realize that Valerie Mason John may have been very right when she told me that there was a possibility that I just could not say goodbye to my characters. This when we were discussing my first attempt at writing a novel centering on tribal life.

    In between 35,000 words and 40,000, I felt the block hit me. It was like pushing against a wall of stone and the going was all uphill. Believe it or not, I actually fell asleep while writing one section somewhere before reaching 40,000. The wonder of it, is that when I passed 40,000 the view opened up and I could see the stretch of road beckoning me towards the finish line. There was the final conflict I had been building up to, that scene were all the loose ends finally would get knotted. I just had to stop for the night because tomorrow is another day and I still have to figure out how battles are fought.


    Looking back, I can't help but think about how the struggle to reach the goal of 50,000 words is reflective of my struggle to reach Christlikeness.

    Sometimes, I do fall asleep, but I realize now, that if I fall asleep while in the process of being trained, I won't be any good at all when the time for battle comes.

    Life just happens...

    Trying to keep from murmuring about spam comments and blog posts I had to delete because of this. Oh well, that's just the way life is I suppose.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005

    Inside The Writing Mind

    Yay! My column got published. This time, I opted to write a reflection on interviewing writers, poets and creative artists. I'm quite pleased with this column as it expresses in part my motivation for pressing on in this endeavour. I think I'll do a column like this every now and then, after so many interviews. Heading off for the next ten columns...

    Aside from doing research and working on the next column, I'm in the throes of this novel for Nanowrimo. Looking at it, I realize that a lot of the short stories I've written have their source in the world this novel is centered around. I find myself wondering if writing about a fantasy world makes fantasy writers more aware of the world unseen that moves and breaths around us. I'm not talking trees and plantlife...I'm talking about the world of the spirit where angels and demons and all those supernatural beings reside.

    In my interview with Valerie Mason-John, this is a subject that did come up, because the central character in her story interacts a great deal with friends from the spirit world.

    I find myself wondering because just before I crossed the 30,000 word mark, I felt a little shiver run down my spine when I was writing a section about my main character being visited by an owl and seeing spirits/shadows in the darkness...

    I find myself praying for wisdom as I write. I know that the goal is to cross that 50,000 word line, but I am also praying at the same time that the work born out of this endeavour will be something I can salvage and use for God's glory.

    I suppose I'm coming nearer and nearer to the truth that what really satisfies is not just writing something everyone will enjoy reading...it's writing something worth reading that matters to me.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    22,159 words

    That's where I am.

    Urban fantasy, is what it's called I suppose. I sometimes wonder where genre names come from and when people started to put labels on their works...when did people stop saying I am a writer and I'm writing a book? When did they start saying, I'm a fantasy writer, or I write urban fantasy, or I write mainstream literary stories instead of simply saying I write stories?

    Tita Inday, has a great answer to that question and I'll post it here:

    Evorteza writes:

    "Nowadays, there is this sentimental blurring of boundary lines, even disciplinary lines. So, your question is of the time: what is the difference between mainstream, literary, etc? This is an influence of postmodernity, and while it comments reasonably on some problems of knowledge, I do not subscribe to it fully.

    The labels they would say are abstractions and cannot in truth apply to any one particular work. Moreover, and this is important, those labels had their origin in historical moments, so they are not objective but rather subjective, no doubt led by dominant ruling class and the elites. It is to preserve what they have thought is truth, right, justice, literary genre, etc. and eventually became truth, right, justice, etc. indeed!!!

    It is the same process that aesthetic items had to experience. It took a while for artists to consider photography a work of art, or an aesthetic object, because there is the intervention of a mechanical object, the camera or film, between the artist and his or her piece. Now, there are photographic pieces that regularly appear in art galleries and are presumably accepted as mainstream art. The same goes for literary pieces."


    More and more, I find myself wondering whether by applying labels to certain works (for instance I know of some writers who will not read fantasy, because they think it's not literary enough), when we do this, is it not a form of literary prejudice (racial prejudice)? Aren't we impoverishing ourselves, robbing ourselves of a wealth of experience by shunning one and embracing one? Why not embrace all literature as being one body? A book is a book, a story is a story, it doesn't matter whether it has its origins or its basis in life real or in life imagined. In the end, I think what matters most is how well the writer writes and whether the vehicle he or she has chosen communicates clearly what he or she wishes to say.

    I could be wrong of course, since I am not an expert. Merely another traveler on this journey towards knowing...

    I am still trying to decipher this thing called literature...literary literature...etc.

    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    nanowrimo update

    That was really close. I reached the 14,000 word mark tonight. Quite pleased about that as I started this thing with no plot and no plan. My project's working title is The Fifth Woman, but after all the twists and turns this thing has taken, well I might have to change that title.

    Aiming for at least 25,000 by the end of this coming week. You might see me here, you might not. One can never know how it goes with nanowrimo. The point of this thing is to write 50k by the end of the month. No rewrites, no edits till after the end of this month. I keep sticking little notes to myself in the margin of my document. **edit this after nanowrimo** **rewrite this thing...change this dialogue**

    Yep, keeping that inner critic silent is pretty tough.

    Saturday, November 05, 2005

    Life and Death...

    Today, I got the news that my uncle died. Died at four in the morning, buried at three in the afternoon. No time to grieve.

    My brother's wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Six weeks premature, but with a healthy pair of lungs.

    Life and death. Rejoicing and sorrow.

    Even in laughter, the heart may ache. That's in Proverbs isn't it?

    I think of all the deaths and births that I have missed. How life changes while my memory stands still. I cannot imagine my uncle lying in his coffin. I cannot picture the still earth covering him. It seems so unreal, this death. Unreal as all the other deaths that I only hear about over the telephone.

    My life goes on, punctuated by moments of joy that I miss. Like the baby whom I will see as a digital photograph...juxtaposed by the disembodied announcement of loss - Uncle Sonny died.

    Buried before I have time to grieve. The dead pass from my life like fleeting shadows, fragments of a forlorn dream.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    Eileen Tabios Interview on The Sword Review

    This is probably the fastest they gotten to rotating around to my column, but my interview with Eileen Tabios is now up on The Sword Review .

    Here's the permanent link
  • to the interview
  • which I've also put into the sidebar to make navigation easier.


    So that really cheered up my day. Especially as I can't seem to get on the nanowrimo site for some strange reason. Because I joined this thing without the slightest idea what I was going to write, it is quite a miracle and only by the grace of God that I have written a little bit over 8,200 words since the first of November. Not bad, eh. I must confess to worrying a bit about Saturday because weekends are a real killer of impetus and if I don't get to write in the weekend, that just slows down that forward drive. Happened to me during the OWW marathon. Darn, I have to buy a surf board so that I can keep surfing that wave.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005


    Because I finished my sewing project today. An assymetrical skirt which was a real pain to put together. There was some error in the pattern that drove both me and my teacher bonkers for a while, but we managed to beat it and I have a lovely new skirt to show off for my efforts.

    Joel spent the afternoon at a birthday party and after doing some cleaning up and sorting out of stuff I did find time to sit down and add a bit more to my word count for the nanowrimo.

    So, plus this blog, and plus the mails I've been writing today, I suppose it must be really the time of month. I'm going to ride this wave and hope it doesn't dry up until I put a period behind the 50,000th word.

    Tuesday, November 01, 2005

    Additions to the sidebar...

    It must be the time of month, but I managed to write about 3,400 words today. A good thing too because tomorrow is a busy day with sewing lessons in the morning and a birthday party to go to in the afternoon.

    I also managed to upload the lovely nanowrimo logo onto my blog with the help of my patient husband :)

    I'm adding some more links to the sidebar as soon as life slows down a bit for me to look up links and sites and all that interesting stuff. For starters, I've added on links to blog/websites of fellow writers on The Sword Review.

    Selena Thomason who is also participating in nanowrimo for the first time, like me. I admire Selena a lot. She writes really good scifi, and while she continues to tuck published merits under her belt, she remains open and transparent.

    Johne Cook is someone whose words of wisdom and whose vignettes continue to be a source of much thought and inspiration. I put a link to his site on the sidebar, because I believe in sharing inspiration.

    Keesa is probably one of the most frequent forum visitors on The Sword Review. Her energy and enthusiasm is quite contagious.

    I'd like to add some more links to that sidebar, but I'll have to postpone that for another day.