2009 Retrospective / 2010 Resolutions

2009 was a year of making peace, making space, and taking risks for me. 2008 landed with a decided *thud* with my own difficulty juggling school and work ending with leaving the Vermont MFA program and rethinking this whole writer thing - two balls on the ground lolling away and one ball in hand - I had my editorial job at least.

Among the changes this year though was a heightened sense of abundance and gratitude. I've got a lot of stuff going on, a lot of stuff in my life, and just a lot of stuff - and that's a good thing from a prosperity viewpoint. I'm grateful that my family and I still have a house to live in, fairly good health, and jobs to support it all. But I also realized that more 'stuff' on top of existing 'stuff' makes for more stress than I'd realized.

So first, the Good Stuff with thoughts on how they might pan out again in 2010:

1) Gave writing workshops at WSU's Women of Color Conference in February, met incredible visionaries and visionary-apprentices. This was a repeat gig of one I did four years ago. I was invited back by students who had attended my workshops as freshmen and were seniors ready to step into the world. It was great to see them and reconnect. I hope they'll bring me back for another conference, but likely it won't be for a couple of years;

2) Re-opened my application to the Rainier Writing Workshop, the MFA program based at Pacific Lutheran University. Stan Rubin was incredibly generous and allowed me to reopen my application after I told him that I had left VCFA program. I was nervous but very pleased when he found me a place in this year's workshop. In 2010... see #5 below.

3) Discovered Improv. It was a lark, really. Something to still the tension of returning to school and take a second shot at a dream. I went to a free drop-in class and fell in love with Yes, And!, Again!, and StorySpine. It will be good for my performance storytelling, I said to myself. Myself said, it's good for your heart. I'm in the middle of my second round of classes and so happy I stayed. I'll admit, though, I'm not sure if classes will fit in my 2010 schedule. Handling my schedule in a more realistic manner will definitely be a challenge.

4) StageTime. Well, if you're gonna study improv, then you may as well practice it too. Monthly storytelling at the library and the occasional set at First Friday Concerts with Swil Kanim gave me opportunity to see what improv could do for my Telling. They tell me I look much more animated on stage and I have to believe them, cause from the inside the stories are definitely more alive. There's definitely the possibility of more gigs in 2010, but I'll have to carefully plan them so they don't completely take over my schedule.

5) Ten days of writing wonderfulness. The Rainier Writing Workshop in a word: Bliss. Getting up for 8 am lectures, honing pieces during critiques, lunch with new friends, afternoon classes, dinner with the whole program, and evening readings created the most satisfying, healing, challenging experience I've ever had. I feel incredibly blessed to have worked with so many good writers, students and faculty both. Really looking forward to the 2010 RWW workshop. Is it August yet?

6) Speaking of good writers, Brenda Miller as my writing mentor this first year of RWW? Perfection. She knows when to be gentle and when to call me on my insecurities. She knows my writing can be strong and believes in me. And I get to work with her for an entire year! It will be really interesting to see who I matched with the second half of 2010.

7) Publication of "Yellow is for Luck." See entry below. Nuff said. Oh, except that I hope to get out and do some readings to promote the book.

8) Events, Events, Events - Tao Po! Online Writer's Workshop (promotion and facilitation), House Concert w/Swil Kanim (management), Elements of Honor Workshop with Swil Kanim (promotion and management), Ladders to the Moon Concert (performer), Raven Dances - Invite the Light with Gene Tagaban (performer), Guild Tells (performer), Christmas Improv (performer). Honestly, each event deserves it's own entry, but they all represent connections with the storytelling community and deepening relationships with visionaries. In 2010, I plan on attending the First International Babaylan Conference in Sonoma, CA and organizing additional Elements of Honor Workshops.

9) Finishing and submitting "Pause Midflight" a poetry chapbook. Compiling all my published and unpublished poetry into one chapbook was nerve-wracking and satisfying all at once. Sending it out to contests definitely put me back into nerve-wracking territory. Having it rejected by one contest, devastating. Yes, I know this means I'm still a thin-skinned writer, but I do know that it will be published in 2010 and I'll probably add book design to my list of skills.

10) Older and hopefully wiser. This year I really tried to pay attention to what works for me, what supports my passion, what's hindering my progress, and generally trying to be more optimistic about my life. I've learned to tap into some old practices (beading! so good to be back to that) and revisited some concepts that have been refined since I practiced them 20 years ago. In 2010, I'll continue to refine the practices with a view to living smarter not harder.

Lots of Good Stuff in 2009 plus meeting and getting to know people like Lori Marshall, Felix Solomon, Karen Murphy and many others. There was stuff though that didn't get accomplished, or got sorta accomplished but fell a bit short.

1) Get healthy. I have a WiiFit. I have a pedometer on my iTouch. I listened to subliminal MP3s. I went to Starbucks alot. I discovered I like big breakfasts on writing days. I didn't get very healthy. *sigh* So in 2010, less Starbucks, more WiiFit.

2) Write online more consistently. Twitter and Facebook have been fun to join, but the games on FB... and the constant Tweets... my blog hasn't been updated very often and I haven't figured out what to do with my WordPress account. I also have a Ning account, a LinkedIn account, and a Ch.mp site. Nothing is synched and it's all very time consuming. 2010 will be about refocusing on this blog and getting Twitter and FB to play nice. The other accounts? Gonna be interesting to see if they survive.

3) Write daily, at least in my 5 year calendar. Been pretty good about keeping my daily calendar up. I had gaps that I filled later, and gaps now that need to be filled. I think the 5 year diary is a good practice so it's a keeper in 2010.

4) Write new stuff, write new stuff, write new stuff. This one I beat myself up about daily 'cause I haven't been writing much new stuff. I've been going weeks without writing much at all and that's only made it worse. So in 2010 I'll be looking for ways to turn my anxiety into words on the page.

5) Secure multiple streams of income. This one has been on the backburner but also in the back of my mind the entire year. With the economy unsteady and the layoffs at work, it only makes sense. But it's also time consuming. I'm open to alternate income streams, but how to devote the time to build new business with family, school, and work? It's a question I'll need to settle in my mind in 2010.

My theme for 2010 will be gentleness. I am enthusiastic about a lot of different projects and people right now and I need to allow the space for reflection and that will require being gentle with myself. To not push too hard and to not use busy-ness to get in the way of taking care of my health and my soul. Building 2010 on the experiences of 2009. I'm cautiously optimistic.


Growing Up Filipino II

I love books. The weight. The smell. The deliberate slowness of reading and turning a page and reading some more.

The screen just isn't the same and that's good and bad. Good for scanning and absorbing information quickly. Bad for reflection and immersion.

I get lost in the process of reading books, lost in new worlds and new people.

Escapism doesn't begin to cover the sensation of unfolding a completely different universe with the flick of the wrist as each page turns.

My author copies of Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults arrived a couple of weeks ago.

In the run-up to Christmas, I had just enough time to show it off to a few friends and family, but very little time to really absorb what I held in my hands.

My first in-book publication.

Don't misunderstand - I'm grateful to the print and online magazines that have published my poetry and reviews. Each byline meant that I became less a could-be writer and more a in-fact writer.

But to hold my story in my hands, all printed and bound up with fabulous work by authors I admire as really-real writers, I stepped into a whole new world I knew existed, but didn't think I had the key to open.

With a flick of my wrist, I was there, in the book, a story peering back at me the reader, a reader peering into a writer's world and that writer was me.

And by 'was' I mean a past me, the one who wrote the snippet of the story over 5 years ago, polished it and submitted it 2 years ago, received an acceptance and proofed my galley last year, and proofed it again this year.

I'd been told that the birthing of a story takes a long time, and I thought that only meant the creation of it. I understand now that there's also the production of it, the long steps from one universe to the next. Who knew that the the distance from the front of the wardrobe to the back was so long, Lucy?

So, there's writing, then there's book-making, and now comes the book promoting.

The hardcover version Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories for Young Adults is now available at Amazon and the soft and hardcopy versions can be ordered from your local brick and mortar store. Just tell them that they can get them from Ingram or Baker & Taylor.

If you know any of the contributors (Dean Francis Alfar, Katrina Ramos Atienza, Maria Victoria Beltran, M.G. Bertulfo, Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, Amalia B. Bueno, Max Gutierrez, Leslieann Hobayan, Jaime An Lim, Paulino Lim Jr., Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, Dolores de Manuel, Rashaan Alexis Meneses, Veronica Montes, Charlson Ong, Marily Ysip Orosa, Kannika Claudine D. Peña, Oscar Peñaranda, Edgar Poma, Tony Robles, Brian Ascalon Roley, Jonathan Jimena Siason, Aileen Suzara, Geronimo G. Tagatac, Marianne Villanueva) ask your bookstore owner if they'll set up a reading to promo the book, then let your friends, family, and total strangers you meet at the coffee shop or grocery store know.

Step into the stories imagined in a post-9/11 world, written from the perspective of the young adult but accessible to anyone who has struggled with issues of family, love, sexuality, home, and social change in the current modern age.

Tuloy! Come share our world.


Salamat Po

My father tried to teach me his dialect, Tagalog, off and on when I was a child and young teen. Some words were round and made my mouth feel like it was full of marbles. Others sat in the back of my mouth, buzzed against the my hard palate. Mostly I couldn't figure out how to change my tongue and throat to match the sounds that slipped so easily past his lips.

They tell me I had a better time of it when we visited the Philippines when I was six. I followed my cousins around the neighborhood and they pointed at things, giving me the name of each thing - the word for grass, the word for house, the word for tree.

I don't remember the words. I can count to 8 successfully - isa, dalawa, tatlo, apat, lima, anim, pito, walu - and I remember a few lines of "Bahay Kubo" which lists a few vegetables being grown behind a house, "bahay." I'm more comfortable saying "hindi na" - Nope - than "o-o" - Yes. I sometimes remember that "Mabuhay" means long life and good fortune.

My ear recognizes it when it's spoken, and my husband tells me that I've responded in English without thinking to questions and conversations in Tagalog. I guess I've lived in translation for so long that it's become second nature.

"Salamat Po" - thank you very much, honored one - is a strange phrase. The ssss rises up my spine and I feel my shoulders hunch as the "ahhh" blends to "lahhh." I want to shorten it to just "Salamat" but to say that, one must start with "Ai" as in "Ai Salamat!" - oh thank you! "Salamat" by itself sounds terse, the kind of thing you'd say at the grocery store when the butcher hands you your order, a thoughtless thing, really, something that lacks a certain connection to gratitude. "Po" is the honorific, the recognition that the person you are thanking is higher in status, or better said, the recognition that you are lower in status because you're the one thanking, instead of being thanked.

Perhaps that's why it trips me up, this idea of status tied up with gratitude, a sense of beholden. My parents would probably say it's from being brought up "in this country" that being beholden is a bad thing. Independence, the ability to fend for myself, to provide all my own needs without needing anyone else is something opposite of "po" perhaps. I don't know if it's from being brought up in the US or not, but I do have a hard time with feeling beholden.

I want to feel grateful and I certainly don't think I feel entitled to anything I've been granted - is there something between beholden and entitlement, a middle ground where both parties retain their sense of honor and wholeness?

When someone thanks me for something, gives thanks in a "salamat po" sort of way, I don't feel entitled - I usually feel grateful for the opportunity to give and that it made someone else feel special. I don't need anything else, and I don't feel entitled to something from them in the future. But when I'm on the other side of the counter, I feel a tension in my gut and it's all bound up in questions - what do they want? what will they want? do I need to give something of equal or better value later? what should I say on my thank you card? how long do I have before I have to send that card? if I give in return, will they give again, when I just would rather not continue this relationship any more?

Today, it's hard /not/ to think of all those grade school stories of Pilgrims starving their first winter, of gracious, noble Indians (note: no Eastern Seaboard tribes were ever taught to me, much to my chagrin now) who gave them food to eat and taught them the principles of nitrogen fixing for better crops, and in return, our country stole or murdered for their land. Embarrassment and shame co-mingle with our Thanksgiving feasts here in the US, so much so that some of our friends protest the holiday yearly, fleeing to Canada for the day. Maybe my knee jerk reaction to "salamat po" or even the concept of gratitude comes from knowing that even the celebration of Thanksgiving is tainted by something very opposite to being thankful.

I don't know the word for "I" in Tagalog - if "po" means the 'honored/honorable you' is there a word which recognizes my own nobility? A quick google search reveals "ako" which covers both "I" and "me" depending on placement relative to the verb. I remember hearing my mother say "Ako na" which felt like "I will" and usually meant she was volunteering to do something, setting aside a personal priority to help someone else. "You" translates to "ikaw" which I remember was usually a question "ikaw?" or "How about you?"

The online Tagalog dictionary reveals that "po" emphasizes respect and politeness, often falling in combination with "Oo" an for "O'po" or "Yes sir/ma'am!" And I think about all the houseboys and servants of US servicemen and their wives and how often they said "O'po!" to the most routine and undignified tasks more suitable for a "little brown brother" than for anyone hoping to advance in the world.

But then there is this "Tao Po" - I am a human being. "Tao" - person/people - is linked with the honorific "Po" revealing that not only can I claim being human but can claim being a Person of Nobility. And when you respond "Tuloy!" - come share my world - you not only recognize me as a fellow human being but invite me to share in your Noble Personage.

That's the space I want to inhabit when I say "Salamat Po" - I am grateful for your continued human nobility, and I believe you can be noble, and make noble choices now and in the future. Why? Not because you've given me something, but because I can already see (always already) my own nobility, believe I can make noble choices when I interact with others and not shrink away from community out of fear of becoming beholden. Level playing field for all concerned.

Salamat Po - I am grateful for the potential of nobility in humanity. I am grateful for the attempt to be a person of honor and hope for my own growth as a person of "Po"


A Writing Practice of Sorts

Kel and I did a short Telling performance tonight for the Edge Group at our church. Edge is the middle school youth program that meets once a month. Tonight was a 'fun night' with a theme of All Souls Day. A bit tricky since a lot of good stories for Hallows are not, shall we say, necessarily Vatican friendly.

But Kel found two from Europe and I pulled two from my usual bag of Filipino stories. I even got gussied up in my T'boli garb and thrummed my brass gong. The kids were great and seemed to enjoy the performance.

I'd hoped to write a bit tonight, get the world caught up on what's been up the last month, but I'm blasted, the adrenaline of performance having worn off about a half hour ago. I wanted to post /something/, restart the habit of writing here.

The coolest thing of the last few weeks was coming around to a writing practice of sorts, or at least the formulation of one that has proven out as workable. Saturday is my writing day, mostly in long-hand, then the week is for typing it up and refining it for review by my writing mentor. When I get stuck I either read or game, but always there's a blank page or the page where I left off waiting on the screen for that moment when I get past my block and can write a bit.

Last month I took a few days off after turning in my packet. A few days turned into almost three weeks. Not good. I was hard pressed this past week or so to finish the work. But finish it I did, three critical papers and 14 pages of new work. I tried out a few new narrative forms. I'll meet with my mentor next week to see if they panned out.

This week I had the Tell tonight, then double Tell on Saturday for Halloween - kids in the afternoon and adults in the evening. Tomorrow I hopefully will have enough brain to do a better blog post and work on more new material. Weds is Improv night. Seems like there's more to this week, but I think I can pretty much count on most nights for more writing and reading. That's pretty cool.

Today a friend read Becoming a Woman of Color and said there was much more to be said and that's true. I'm hoping that there are whole essays and maybe books-worth of stuff still to be said about growing up FilAm, Catholic, Palouse-dweller, Motherhood, etc. Right now I'm trying not to tailor the pieces in any one direction. I'm just hoping to get it a lot of it down and then maybe later, I'll spread all of it out and see what I've got.

I'll say this, though, a month ago I wasn't sure I'd be able to get a writing practice put together, and it's been a really tough month, but I'd say I'm well on my way and that makes for happy.



Performing impromptu in front of friends and family has never been one of those things I enjoyed. Like a lot of FilAm kids (and likely kids from all parts of the world) my parents and relatives expected me to be able to perform at the drop of a hat. There was a certain prestige to having a child who could knock out Fur Elise perfectly at age 9 or be able to sing and sway to the old standards as well as put on the attitude for the newer songs. "Pressure to perform" took on a whole new meaning as child after child was called forward to do their best act for visitors.

My cousins and I balked at the repeated requests to perform for our grandparents and soon, the requests ended all together. Around middle school, my cousin discovered stage magic and I watched in horror as my father picked apart the performance, guessing how things were done even before the tricks were complete. I don't remember my cousin performing for us ever again even though I know he loved to juggle and do close tricks. I do remember being at my father's brother's house and being prodded to play something on the piano. Even though we didn't know each other well, I knew instinctively that my latest memorization of a Bach piece wasn't going to go over well with my hip-cool cousins and when they tried to sing one of the top hits of the time together, we felt embarrassment for each other.

The worst moment was trying to cajole my cousins on my mother's side to sing "Rainbow Connection" at our grandparent's 50th anniversary. We didn't want to be on display, didn't choose the song, or hated that we were never asked if we wanted to perform, it was just assumed we would. Didn't matter. It had to be done and we did it. A few cousins threw in songs of their own and we were a hit. We vowed never to do it again. We've all resisted at one point or another, and oddly, we've all volunteered to play or sing at family events. Well, most of us... actually, not me.

I freeze up in front of my family of origin. I feel the iciness of reproach on my shoulders, hear every wrong note played or sung, and most of all, I feel judged before I can even attempt to play. Performance anxiety doesn't even come close to describing the feeling. It's a combination of being on display, vulnerable to the insecurities of others who must criticize in order to feel important, vulnerable to other's fears that they didn't raise me right=bright=prodigy, and ultimately that I would, once again fail to meet the expectations and worst of all hear "Well, it was okay. Really. Good try," delivered with a distant look betraying a desire to high-tail it out of the hall before anyone else noticed all the flaws and trumpeted their children's triumphs instead.

Bitter? Not really. It's what it was. It still hurts and I flinch at the thought of performing in front of family. When the potential for stage time opens, I have to remind myself that I can choose to perform or not at any given moment, that I can give into the urge to unreel a tale for anyone willing to listen and it will be okay. Storytelling - that's easy. Singing, a little bit more difficult, but after singing show tunes two hours straight at the RWW residency last August after not singing for .... a couple of decades... I can say that it's easier than it was, but still harder than Telling.

But playing the piano, with all that piano playing straight-A-Asian-girl garbage and the fact I haven't touched keys, really practiced since before I stopped singing in church choirs. Just a little on my mom's piano... when I knew everyone was watching TV and I just had to feel the smoothness of the ivory, the resonance of the notes through the wood, the softening of tones with the press of a pedal... but nothing much more.

Until last night. My husband and daughters were there. My friends were there. The piano was there. And like we say in Improv, the moment became "Yes, and..."

I didn't plan it, which is good because then I didn't stress about it. The moment flowed from all beautiful music and stories Swil Kanim shared with my friends and family. My husband and daughters had each taken a turn playing tunes on their instruments, spur of the moment performances they chose because they wanted to share their gifts too. And the piano was open, keys white and smooth, and I thought, why not? SK had told us the story of the watershed moment in his life when he realized that he needed to play his own music to feel fulfilled. And I have this one song I wrote a long time ago...

So I started. I almost didn't. But I wanted him to hear my song, wanted to give back a little of the gift he'd given me. My hands shook and I couldn't remember where to put my hands. I stumbled within five or six notes. I rubbed my hands on my jeans and thought "Again!" - that Improv permission to start over. Again, I placed my hands on the keys and I got a little farther in the song. Again I faltered. I thought I should stop and give an apologetic shake of my head. Too rusty, I'd explain. It had been too long. But I didn't want to. I asked myself, do you want to do this? Keep going? Yes, I said, and I rubbed my palms on my jeans, put my hands back up and started again. Got a little farther. Shifted the song to account for the unexpected key change, shook my head when I hit a wrong note, muttered an apology and then kept on going.

There's a point in every performance, no matter how long or short that a performer realizes it's not going to get any better, but it's not going to get any worse. Swil Kanim came and sat next to me. I stifled a flinch, my reactions of yesteryear, but then I allowed his curiosity and openness to create a positive space, because I knew that was what he wanted to do. I breathed and chose Yes, Again. And again, and again, until the very last chord.

When I finished, I realized I played the best I could, didn't give up, and existed in a space where I was totally safe even though I trembled at the core of myself. I was repatterning my past, choosing a new future.

I don't know if I could play the piano again in front of others, but I give myself a better than good chance I might. Ultimately, though, I brought choice into something that was so painful before and that's started a change and healing within me.

All for the feel of the keys, for the song needing to be shared, and wonderfulness that is friends and family gathered in unconditional love.


Story Bag

Every Teller has a story-bag, a list of stories they know and can Tell at the drop of a hat. I've been performance storytelling about 3-4 years now, but my bag is still pretty small.

There's my favorite - Alitaptap and the Sky King, The Thimble/The Axe, Marcella's Three Tests, Penduko and the Snails, Heron and the Hummingbird, The First Woman, Pina and the Pineapple, The Sea, Sky, and Wind, Bathala and the Coconut Tree, Juan Tamad and the Market Horse, the Battle of the Wind and Rain.

There's the ones I think I've only ever told one time - The Golden Rooster and the Greedy King, Seven Silly Brothers, the Hummingbird and the Carabao, The Three Brothers and the Princess, the Rainbow Princess, The woman who left her jewels in the sky - the endings of a couple of these are really vague in my mind.

That's over a dozen. Hrm. Not bad actually. More than I thought.

Last night's Tell at the Library was pretty cool - I wore my T'boli garb, played my gong, and told the Bathala story for the first time. The garb really set the tone and the rhythms on the gong I used seemed to work well. I discovered, though, that my vocal pitch drops when I'm thinking too much. That's good to know for next time. One little boy, though, said the story was sad, and I guess it was - I was thinking about Silversong, had dedicated the performance to her memory. And the story is about the death of a friend. I'll rework it to bring out the caretaking more.

There was time for me to tell two, so I did Alitaptap which got a few laughs. The surprises of the night were the presence of SheilaG, my improv teacher, and Jason Quick, a local juggling performer and motivational speaker. Jason had seen my FB notice about the event and yep, I got all fan girl on him a bit too. He's a one-armed juggler, for goodness sake, and a terrific speaker. I'm hoping he comes back and joins the Guild. It would be great to have him on board.

So, between the garb (gonna have to figure out how to secure my malong better), SheilaG, and JasonQ being there, I was more than a bit nervous, but it seemed to go well. Kel and Doug were the other Tellers and it's always fun to share the stage with them.

I've been thinking about meaning lately, how to bring a story full round to a meaning, how to hint at it in the beginning without overplaying the hand, or overstating the obvious. In improv, though, we're supposed to be obvious and trust that the connections and meanderings will just happen.

Maybe this entry is about how I under-regard myself because my progress is slow, at least to my thinking. There have been artists who talk about each moment they perform is the culmination of their lives up to that moment, they say "People ask me how long it took for me to write this book/poem/song and I tell them, all my life, up to that moment." And I think I look at myself when I'm at the page and I think "I've lived my whole life up to now to make /this/?" Implying that what art I've made isn't worth all that life, or maybe that my life hasn't been all that much if the results are so poor on the page.

An artist once told me never to write about weakness in my blog, to be overly self-conscious. I've tried to do that, but it's a sort of censorship that today, I guess I just can't buy into. I'm hard on myself, I get that, but what's hard is that I can't see anything different, even after realizing I look at my work and my 'career' so pessimistically.

But I look to the start of the entry to find the ending - my story bag /is/ small, but I've given 3 dozen performances over the last three years and that's pretty cool. I even remember people telling me they liked my stories, gotten high-fives from tellers I respect and learn from. And I'm not likely to stop Telling anytime soon. There's always next month's third Friday tell, and a Scary Stories Tell sometime around Hallows (I'm thinking an awsang story might be in order... gotta brush up on my scary screetches and old women poses...), plus I think a Tell near Winter's Solstice where I'll try my hand at the Bathala story once more... or something about the return of the sun... seasonal stuff is hard with Filipino stories since the seasons are so different there than here.

I think my writing is the same. I got a collection of poems out to a couple of contests this week. I've got the start of a couple of pieces for my packet due in a few days. I've got work to do, more than enough ideas.

So maybe for me, it's not a matter of figuring out why I'm overly pessimistic, but to just keep following my art, see where it takes me, set some small, reasonable goals, and to just remember to have fun.


Something Something

These are the things you should know.

The house on 10th Avenue was once green with white trim, but I remember it as yellow with brown trim. Yellow because it was Father's favorite color. Yellow because he was born in November. Yellow because it was his color.

The shag carpet was gold because topaz is gold, because topaz is the birthstone for November, because his birthday is in November. Even Mother's Singer was a Gold Touch, best on the market, because that's what was best for our house.

They told me, though, that they covered the hardwood floors with carpet because my knees got cold when I crawled on them. They told me that my father quit smoking when my mother was pregnant with me, that he tore a pack of cigarettes in his hands, that he craved tobacco so bad, he dug cigarette butts out of the ashtray for one last hit.

But these were things before I was born, before I had memory, and all that was left were the yellow birch leaves in Fall, shimmering in the wind, falling, cluttering up the green, green lawn.


Meeting Felix Solomon

Like all good moments, I didn't go looking to meet Felix Solomon the other day. I meant only to reward myself with a gourmet mini-cupcake after a good writing session at the local cafe.

Woods Coffee sits on the corner of Railroad and Chestnut, a half block down from the Saturday Market. As I wrote, Market patrons milled between stalls of fresh basil and mushrooms, handcrafted baskets and lotions, and food booths boasting everything from Hawaiian Shave Ice to Indian curry to Mexican tacos. A late summer wind whipped through intermittently, a sure sign of rain later in the evening. I sat in an overstuffed leather chair and wrote about encountering a Euro-American, a blond-haired, blue-eyed slip of a woman sporting a white t-shirt with "Got white privilege?" printed in black letters. It was almost too easy to write that draft.

So it didn't take much self-convincing to take a stroll around the long way to the cupcake stand, then circle back to my car. Along the way, I tipped a bagpipe player (just returned from a festival in Scotland where he placed 6th overall) and a young violinist (bound for his first out-of-state competition) both busking for the day. After rewarding myself with a dark chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting, I merged with the crowd picking up a basket of golden chanterelles for orange sauce later, carrots for lunches and a half dozen of my favorite Wenatchee peaches as I walked along. Turning from the fruit stand, I glanced over a small card table burdened with Salish wood carvings and small fliers I recognized from the night previous. At his First Friday concert, Swil Kanim handed out the small bookmark fliers advertising an event benefitting Felix Solomon's latest project for Maritime Park. I slowed my steps, fascinated by the model of the proposed carving that sat on the table. Shaped like a fisherman's gaffe, figures rode a longboat seaward, the prow of the boat bearing the traditional marking of the Lummi tribe.

A woman behind the table offered me a flier and knowing the cost of promo materials, I shook my head. Her face clouded with perceived rejection.

"I have one," I explained. "I'll be there." (Sunday, Sep. 13, 2pm Maritime Park)

She smiled and a man beside me started telling me about the raffle they would have to support the carving and maintenance of the finished pole. He showed me pictures of more carvings and a talking stick topped with image of a man's head, his flat cone shaped hat indicating he was a Keeper, a spirit who watches and protects.

My heartbeat quickened - it occurred to me that this couple might know Felix Solomon and maybe even how I might talk to him in person. I've been searching for a local Native carver since writing my novel draft three years ago. One pivotal character is a Salish carver and I could only glean so much about native carving from books and museum excursions. If I could actually /meet/ a carver, then I thought I'd begin to understand what makes a carver do the art they way s/he does, and make the character come alive on the page.

The man and I chatted about Swil Kanim (who'll be performing at the benefit) a bit and I looked at the table again. Near the photo album was a copy of a local magazine featuring Felix Solomon, his face and studio right on the cover. I'd read the article when it first came out, tried to find contact information about him on the 'net, but came up empty handed.

I glanced at the man talking to me, blinked, and looked back at the magazine.

"Wait," I said, looking at the man closely, recognition uncovering my eyes. "Are you... Felix Solomon?"

He chuckled. "I am."

I was floored. After years of start-stop research and dead-end leads, here was a Salish carver standing right there talking to me, trying to convince me to come out and support his work, when I had only hoped to maybe see him in the distance at the forthcoming event.

I'd like say I was smooth, explaining my project eloquently, speaking in humble, unobtrusive tones. Nope. Fangirl to the last, complete with "WOW! You're /him/! You're the guy from the magazine article I've been looking for! WOW!"

He grinned with bemusement at my enthusiasm. I, on the other hand grinned stupidly at the gift Grace was providing.

You'd think there'd be no coming back from that sort of... expressiveness, but I figured, if this was my one shot at talking with a contemporary Salish carver, I was going to ask for more.

"I was hoping to talk with you about your work for a book I'm writing," I said. He gave me his card and I promised to email him, then I noticed that his studio address was listed there too.

"Could I visit you---?" "You can come by the studio---" Came at the same moment.

Finally, after months of self doubt about the novel, one of my characters was there, in the flesh, or at least the flesh and blood carver who's personality and experience would influence my character's development was there, giving me a hug, promising to show me his work personally.

Better than a chocolate mini-cupcake with buttercream frosting, I left the Market with a true treasure, the hope of a story saved.


Frog and Heron

"Why?" asked Frog, and Heron shuffled with discomfort.

"Self-doubt," said Heron, and the Frog smiled kindly, understanding.

"I know that feeling," said Frog. "I think sometimes that people will figure out that I can't play the violin."

Heron was amazed. She'd heard him play, seen people change from dark creatures to Creatures of Light because of his music.

"It's the same for you," Frog went on.

"But I can't play the violin," Heron replied, knowing he wasn't talking about her playing the violin.

"There's only one thing self-doubt it good for," said Frog. "Dodging responsibility."

Heron blinked. She thought about all the people waiting for the stories in her heart, the ones she had trouble getting on the page.

"I say this to you, because I need to hear it too," said Frog. "You are who you are made to be. I know you are a Writer. And responsibility is the ability to respond. And when you're ready, you *will* be able to respond."

Later Heron heard the Elder in God's House say, "It is the Holy Spirit who equips us and calls us to do His work in the world."

And on these things, the Heron meditated, grateful for their words.


No One Trick Pony

A little accounting of the week's purchases:

Village Books:

I Was Told There Was Cake (Sloane Crosley)
The Language of Balkava (Diana Abu-Jaber)
Born Standing Up (Steve Martin)


Ellipse (Imogene Heap)
Let's Get Small (Steve Martin)


Safekeeping (Abigail Thomas)
A Three Dog Life (Abigail Thomas)
Thinking About Memoir (Abigail Thomas)
The Guild Seasons 1 & 2 (DVD)
Dr. Horrible's Sing-along-blog (DVD)

The Thomas material was three-fer bundle, as was the Guild/Dr. Horrible set.

Looking over the list, it occurs to me that the list accurate describes my personality.

I ain't no one trick pony. :)


Words of the Day in Practice

Miri struggled against forgetfulness, her sense of agnosia so strong it was as if her memories were so much smalto, bits of fine glass glazed and shining, yet never coming together again as a whole.


Concert Benefits Artistic Development of Native Youth

On Friday, August 28 at 7pm, a special group of Sudden Valley neighbors will sponsor a concert by Swil Kanim to benefit Native youth in the foster care system.

For many Sudden Valley residents, it’s the neighborly thing to provide the one next door with the missing ingredient for a dinner being prepared. It’s a neighborly thing to take your kids and the kids across the street to school and sports practices. Neighbors share barbeques in the summer and snow shovels in the winter, but for the neighbors living near the corner of Harborview Drive and the newly named Thunder Peak Way, being neighborly goes beyond their special ‘hood.’ They are gathering together and extending their neighborly ways to change the lives of Tribal children in the DCFS system.

The benefit concert is open to the public and will be held at the Sudden Valley Marina located at Gate 1. Community organizers suggest bringing lawn chairs or blankets for seating. Donations of $5 per person or $15 per family will support expressive art development for these children who are facing layers of challenges and Blue Skies for Children has agreed to handle the distribution of the funds.
Blue Skies for Children is a non-profit, 501(c) 3 corporation founded in 1997 by a task force, who enlisted local organizations including DCFS, Brigid Collins, Catholic Community Services, Whatcom Foster & Adoptive Parents Association, Northwest Youth Services, The Opportunity Council, WWU and Whatcom County Community Network. A continuous effort is underway to restore hope and self esteem to homeless, low income and foster children in Whatcom & Skagit Counties, by providing support and valuable enrichment opportunities. Concert donations are tax deductable.

Beautiful Lake Whatcom will be a stunning backdrop to Swil Kanim’s haunting melodies. Swil Kanim, himself a member of the Lummi Nation, travels nationally and internationally as musician and inspirational speaker. He is a recent recipient of the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center Peace Builders Award and Whatcom Family & Community Network Community Builders Award.

A world class virtuoso violinist, Swil Kanim advocates self-expression to create stronger community. He intertwines his music with storytelling, poetry, and audience interaction. His original compositions are mesmerizing and inspiring to all ages alike. While quickly becoming the most popular Native American Violinist, Swil Kanim is also a keynote speaker and notable actor; he starred as "Mouse" in Sherman Alexie’s highly acclaimed movie The Business of FancyDancing.

Sudden Valley resident organizers offer a range of volunteer, donation, and sponsorship opportunities to support this event. "It takes a village to raise a child" goes the old African proverb. In the case of this special group of Sudden Valley residents, supporting a child in need is just the neighborly thing to do.


Press Release by Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor appeared in the August issue of Sudden Valley News and is available for general distribution.


Notes: Why We Write

"I wrote my world and, in doing so, felt myself participate fully in its unfolding...my drive to write is the same--language, penned to paper binds the inner world to the outer, satisfying my desire to unite with creation." - Elizabeth Andrew, Writing the Sacred Journey

A few days ago, a fellow RWW participant (who's name fails me... I hope my memory returns when I've had more sleep) asked me about my email addy (word.binder) which bears little resemblance to my name (in any of it's iterations). She asked if I was into book arts, and I said No (although I really think book arts is cool and wouldn't it be great to have time for it?).

I told her about my blog and how my writing is about bringing all my many worlds/experiences into one space. ElizabethA resonates that idea while pointing out to me that the "one space" isn't really here at this blog, it's here in me. She goes on to say:

"When we write with the professed hope of helping others, I suspect that many of us are really writing for our former selves...what we are writing is the book we wish we had read during our own trying, formative experience...writing for oneself seems selfish, so we obscure our real motivation with the altruistic desire to help others. In fact, writing for one's self is noble. Each of us is worth of that generosity."

This goes back to what I think about "Tao Po!" the practice of declaring "I am a Human Being." Not a human been, past tense, but a human being, or better, human becoming. I write to say to myself, "these are the things that have happened to make me, me, in all my multiplicities." This sounds incredibly arrogant, to declare my story as somehow significant, but when I teach Tao Po!/Tuloy, I am also encouraging others to write their story because we all need to know our stories are important. We each make a difference, especially when we own, declare, and become better because of that owning and declaring of ourselves.

So what makes all this more than navel-gazing confessional? Jane Yolen notes:

"Every writer has three responsibilities: first to the story, second to yourself, and finally your audience."

To which ElizabethA expands to: "For writers of spiritual memoir, story is not something born of our imagination or of history; it's the very stuff of our lives. It is the aching and questing of our souls."

Heavy stuff, but again, something that resonates - while at RWW, I noted several times that writing non-fiction was a compulsion for me, something I'm driven to do in a way different from writing poetry or fiction. All the genres are about Story, but non-fiction is about claiming my own story without the shields poetry and fiction provide. Writing non-fiction makes me aware of the themes and questions I'm working through, allowing me to find the meanings I'm trying to learn and articulate.

JaneY's quote, though, points out one very important thing I need to remember when I write - Story First - because every understanding hinges on how fully engaged I can be with the story I'm telling/sharing/writing. I can't just say - I was 13 and on a road trip to Richland, WA when the sky opened up and felt totally connected to God and the world in that Dandelion Wine-Ray Bradbury way. Just stating the story short changes the experience for me and the reader, and we both need the story to unfold in a meaningful way in order to be in the place of honor provided by the well-told story.

"When memoir writer's are responsible to the story, they honor that which is vital and true - the spirit - within their experience." - Elizabeth Andrew

What greater reason is there to write than to honor that which is the human experience?


MFA Re-Entry

Returned from PLU's Rainier Writing Workshop Residency tired but happy. Met so many incredible artists, faculty and participants both. Learned all sorts of new terms like Rhymed Scenes, Digression (as a good thing), and Braided Essays. My two workshop pieces aren't as far along as I had hoped, but I received really good feedback as well as a sense of where to go next with them. I'm going to let the drafts mellow, though, and start creating new stuff.

I feel very fortunate to be working with Brenda Miller in the the coming months. Her work in lyric essay and her gentle discipline has been inspiring to me for many years. She's having me read three books to start:

Fearless Confessions by Sue Silverman
Writing the Sacred Journey by Elizabeth J. Andrew
New and Selected Poems: Volume One by Mary Oliver

I went into the residency with as open a heart and mind as I could manage (given my terrible nervousness) and came to a space that has to do with the question "What is Tribal and How have these themes/ideas intersected my life?" I'm not planning to write specifically /to/ answer that question, so much as I know that "tribal" will be part of my consciousness as I work my writing paces.

Although I'm happy to be home, I already miss my PLU-RWW 'tribe' and hope we can find each other in the broad spaces of the Internet. It's always good to have traveling companions.


Two Weeks

Two Weeks until the premier of "MFA II: Return of the Dream"

Sequels are usually not as interesting as the first movies, especially if they're mid-arc of a trilogy, so perhaps it's better to say "MFA II: Do Over!" but that just sounds like I'm ripping off Robin Hemley's new memoir.

The story thus far - last year I applied to three MFA programs, all low residency and was accepted into all three. Technically, I guess I applied for four MFAs, since last minute I decided to add to my VCFA non-fiction application by applying also to their Writing for Young Children and Adults program. I was wait-listed on two programs (word to the wise - apply early for the best possible slots), but VCFA had spots for me in both the non-fiction program and the children's writing program.

Since I needed to start somewhere at VCFA, I decided to enroll into the children's writing program. I don't know that much about writing for children, definitely not as much as I know about memoir, so it seemed logical at the time. I had a fabulous time at the residency, met lots of cool folks, got lined-up to work with a fantastic mentor. In fact, right now my cohort, the Thunder Badgers are just wrapping their third residency as I type this. I'll always have good memories of last summer.

I needed that residency badly. I hadn't been in a writing community for years and I was dry and crackly from the lack of contact. As I read more and more about Kapwa-tao, an indigenous Filipino term meaning community-self that describes the interaction and interdependency we all possess, I understand that my drive to be at residency has to do with kapwa-tao. Writing is solitary and often people think that once a piece is finished and has an audience, then the circle of giving and receiving is complete. In certain ways, I agree, but that's only from the perspective of the piece. For me as a writer, there is another circle completed when I'm around other artists doing the same things I'm doing, facing the same challenges, and looking at the world in a particular way.

I get close to that circle when I hang out with art-activist-performers, but there's a certain point I've found where writing departs from performance, especially the sort of improv-performing of Gene Tagaban and Swil Kanim. Performing is reflective, but the timing is incredibly fine, the moments fleeting. If you miss a cue long enough to realize you miss a cue, then you can only go back to that moment in a new performance, one you hope will give you that same space again. Most times, the missed cues are so quick that they don't register. Writing is different that way. You can miss a cue and go back to it in the exact same moment because it's there hovering on the page. The more you work the art, the more cues you can see to either fix or just delete. But that takes a different set of skills, a different way of looking at art, and a good community of writers can support that process, just because they know that's what the art is all about.

In some ways, what I've written isn't completely true - revision in workshop is a lot like performing in multiple spaces. The audience shifts, might have a different level of skill, might be looking for a particular voice - this is the same for both performance and writing. But there is something different between performers and writers, maybe having to do with the isolation part, the place where they work their art out. Or maybe it's just the way I roll. In any case, hanging out with performers has been close to what I'm looking/hoping for when I go to a writing workshop, but there's nothing like the energy of the writing workshop.

Two weeks from today, I'll step into the PLU Rainier Writing Program summer workshop, get my dorm room set up, fuss with my materials, feel lost in a new space, wonder if I'll make new friends, wonder if the faculty will like my work, wonder if I'll talk too much or talk too little. I'll likely push myself too hard for the first few days then ease into a pace. I'm hoping not to crash in the middle, but 10 days of writing is intense. I can only imagine what my friend Chie is experiencing with six weeks straight at Clarion West. Somewhere toward the end of the residency I'll be matched up with my mentor-for-a-year. I have an idea/hope of who I might work with. Just from looking at the faculty, I know a couple who I've worked with before and they would be great to work with again. That sort of takes the surprise out of it, but there's comfort in knowing who I might work with.

Today I begin the fussy stuff - getting my workshop commenting done, choosing my workshops (at least first blush), gathering up little comforts (small fan, first aid kit, pix of the family). I'm excited and nervous - many things went right with MFA I, many things went wrong. I'm overly worried about the 'many things wrong' but even that is easing and I'm hopeful for the many things right. I've got messages in my pocket from my performing mentors - Gene and Swil Kanim both speak about doing/being what we are made to do/be. I'm very grateful to Raven and Frog for their wisdom for it gives both an acknowledgment to a uniqueness as well as a reminder to be responsible, all wrapped up in the joy and fun of honor.

A few loose ends to wrap up today too - finishing up the Tao Po! writing workshop, posting to the Babaylan Files, and such. Busy busy summer, but all in all, it's going just grand.



My blog got spammed about a week ago and I got hit with over 200 "Nice Blog" comments complete with links to a site in China. Still haven't figured out how the bot got past the word verification feature.

I was annoyed, to say the least, dreaded dredging through the entire blog just to delete all the spam. 200 posts! But it was a matter of pride /not/ to have the posts there even if they were relatively harmless. So, I started from the beginning of my blog and deleted them one at a time. Oddly, as time went on, I got to glance over thoughts I had four years ago, got to remember what it was like to be a new blogger transplanted from Livejournal, looking for a new place to think and connect. The Anonymous Spammer sent me back in time and I discovered poetry I'd written but never got past those first postings. This got me curious, so I started copying them into a separate document.

My published and 'unpublished' poems total 17. 32 pages. I'm amazed. I started my blog to connect with FilAm poets primarily, and I'll be darned if they didn't rub off on me.

I also discovered that I've had quite a few really cool conversations with FilAm artist/visionaries over the years. Online chats with folks trying to figure out this whole biculturality, heritage, spirituality, history, art thing that occupies my brain most of the time. These 'talks' are a bit harder to capture than the poems. They're sort of not-quite-essays, commentaries on current-at-the-time events, historic in the sense that they contribute to /my/ history and development over the past four years.

I noticed that many of the conversations dropped off just about the time folks started transitioning to Facebook and Twitter. These related but different social media spaces have a sense of immediacy which is cool, but lack the sort of reflective nature of blogs. Realizing that helps me feel a sense of focus for my blog for the future.

In the meantime, I've got 32 pages of poetry on my hands and I haven't even gone 'into the files' for other poems that might fit nicely with these. I know of at least one other poem that was published in 1998 that ought to be accounted for. Then I'll need to print them out and look at them, see if they play well together in the same space. I hope so. I think it would be cool to have them all together in a collection/chap of some sort.

After which, I'll have to go back and see about those conversations, figure out a way to put them altogether somehow.

About a month ago I got the wild idea to take all my old journals and start archiving them by entry date, so all the January 15th entries would be on the same page. See if I could sense some trends or something. The project got too unwieldy and I abandoned it, but obviously the notion of it stayed in my brain pan. After reviewing 4 years of posts, I'm seeing the themes that mean the most to me and even better, how I approach them.

All good things as I slowly approach my second attempt at an MFA program.


Filipina Writers Part 2 Broadcast

PoetsWest on The Road Home from Everett, WA will broadcast tomorrow, Wednesday, June 17 at 4:30 p.m., PoetsWest #133 featuring Filipina Writers Part 2.

If you are out of range for this station, the broadcast is available worldwide via streaming by going to KSER and following the Listen Live links.

PoetsWest #133
Filipina WritersPart II (29.09 minutes)

How to Let the Dead Go — Toni Bajado
Phone Call from War Zone — Toni Bajado
Karaoke Diva — Angela Martinez-Dy
Philippine Experience — Angela Martinez-Dy
Mom’s Stuff — Nancy Calos-Nakano
Women Cradled — Melissa Nolledo
Migration — Melissa Nolledo
Take Flight — Melissa Nolledo
The Gift — Melissa Nolledo

The broadcast is archived at the AudioPort website under SERIES, but only to pacifica affiliate stations. Contact your local public radio station to encourage them to pick up the feed. PoetsWest will have the broadcasts available on their site at some time in the future, but only for a two week stretch.

Last year, I was priviledged to read with a group of incredible pinay writers at the Pagdiriwang 2009: Words Expressed event. Writers Workshop Co-chairs Maria Batayola, Robert Francis Flor and Dale Tiffany have put together a terrific program, and promoted it incredibly well. The event was recorded for future broadcast.

PoetsWest #132 Program:

Excerpt from When the Elephants Dance (novel) — Tess Uriza Holthe
Mail Order Bride (poem) —Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor
Excerpt from Yellow is for Luck (short story) —Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor
Manyan Child (poem) —Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor
First Visit (poem) —Toni Bajado
Neighbor Child 17 (poem) —Toni Bajado


Filipina Writers Part 1 Broadcast

Last year, I was priviledged to read with a group of incredible pinay writers at the Pagdiriwang 2009: Words Expressed event. Writers Workshop Co-chairs Maria Batayola, Robert Francis Flor and Dale Tiffany have put together a terrific program, and promoted it incredibly well. The event was recorded for future broadcast.

PoetsWest on The Road Home from Everett, WA will broadcast today, Wednesday, June 10 at 4:30 p.m., PoetsWest #132 featuring Filipina WritersPart I.

If you are out of range for this station, the broadcast is available worldwide via streaming by going to KSER and following the Listen Live links.

PoetsWest #132 Program:

Excerpt from When the Elephants Dance (novel) — Tess Uriza Holthe
Mail Order Bride (poem) —Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor
Excerpt from Yellow is for Luck (short story) —Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor
Manyan Child (poem) —Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor
First Visit (poem) —Toni Bajado
Neighbor Child 17 (poem) —Toni Bajado

The broadcast may be archived at the AudioPort website under SERIES in the future. I'm unable to confirm. Edit - yes, it's available now, but only to pacifica affiliate stations.

Next week, the second part of the program will be broadcast.

PoetsWest #133
Filipina WritersPart II (29.09 minutes)

How to Let the Dead Go — Toni Bajado
Phone Call from War Zone — Toni Bajado
Karaoke Diva — Angela Martinez-Dy
Philippine Experience — Angela Martinez-Dy
Mom’s Stuff — Nancy Calos-Nakano
Women Cradled — Melissa Nolledo
Migration — Melissa Nolledo
Take Flight — Melissa Nolledo
The Gift — Melissa Nolledo



You must always be intoxicated. It is the key to all: the one question. In order not to feel the horrible burden of Time breaking your breaking your back, and bending you to the earth, you must become drunk, without truce.

But on What? On wine, poetry, or virtue, as you wish.
- Charles Baudelaire

I'm deep in the throes of revising a pair of essays.

By "deep in the throes" I mean to be dramatic. Really dramatic. As dramatic as a child with a tiny splinter in her finger watching her mother take her by the hand and bring a set of metal tweezers to the wound. Dramatic as the certainty that child has that it will hurt worse to have those metal tweezers burn her flesh (as she is certain they will) than to worry at the sliver with her teeth. As dramatic as a mother steeling herself against her child's pain and denial, sweating and cursing silently, and wishing it were over before it is even done. That level of drama.

Yah. I hate revising.

Maybe it's the storyteller in me - you never get a chance to go back and rewrite your words once their out your mouth and through the air. What's done is done and you just do your best as you perform, to give the clearest metaphors, the most dramatic plots, and complex, but relate-able characters possible. If you fail, well, there's next performance.

But you never get to do that same performance over again.

Not so with writing. In writing, you speak your mind, use the tidiest metaphors, develop those characters and plots over time. Then you look at it again. Or you have someone else look at it again. And you try to find the gaps in the story, look for the missing links to theme, correct for the upteenth time that pesky word that the spell checker always helpfully reverts to something completely unintended. Then you do the process again. And again. And again.

And the idea is that you're saving your manuscript, allowing it to grow and become better than it was before. Tighter, cleaner, leaner, and by extension, more brilliant and wonderful.

The trouble is, there was a rhythm set up to the words in the first draft and to enter that rhythm again is, in many ways as impossible as entering the same stream twice, as philosphers say. It's not the same stream. Those waters have moved on. The rhythm has moved on.

So there I stand on a rock in the middle of a revision stream, looking down-a-ways at the rapids tearing the stream apart and making a muddle of flotsam. There's a flat rock close by, a promise of a new way of looking at the essay, a promise that the vantage from this new rock will be a better one. Problem is that rock is not right next to where I'm standing.

I have to stretch to reach that new place of seeing, and anyone who knows me, knows I don't like getting wet. At all. Other than the purposes of hygeine, water is best watched from a distance in the form of the sea or drunk ice cold while sea-gazing. Perhaps it's about risk or perfectionism or failure, but it ultimately about uncertainty.

What if my current rock, my current vantage point is the best one? What if that other rock, that other way of looking at things isn't all that wonderful? What if I end up dropping the piece into the water where it flows downstream churns against the rocks never to come together again?

Here's the thing - I know revision is critical to writing. I get that I can't just hope that my talent and current skills can bring the essays alive. I've gotta keep letting my art teach me my art or my art will never grow.

So, here's to water of revision. May my drunkeness deliver me to a new way of seeing things and not drown in me in a stream of fearful 'what if's.'

What is art for?

Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for? - Alice Walker

My parents are one of a hundred thousand, thousand other parents who have ever lived to see their child turn from a perfectly good life as a socially acceptable citizen into **shudder** an artist. Or worse, an apparently struggling artist. For my folks, coming to America was a way they could ensure that their children wouldn't suffer the hardships of war, poverty, and limited education. My brother and I were to be shining examples of success in America. Only trouble was we both believed in freedom so much, neither of us chose to become one of, as one FilAm put it, the Holy Trinity of Occupations: Engineer, Lawyer, Physician.

We've both struggled with the question of "what is art" and "how do we make a living in art." Sometimes we've gotten lucky and found venues for our work. Most of the time, we keep doing our best to give expression to what's inside aching to be something. Anything - a story, a song, a sketch, a performance. And along the way, it's easy to look back and wonder - did I make a bad decision to not try for that Ace-in-the-Hole job? Does this choice make me a bad person?

I guess that's why I keep looking for people who are creatives, ones who take what's inside themselves and make something truly unique, artful, heart-filled.

Steve Martin was one of those guys I wanted to be like as a kid. Funny, irreverent, fantastic juggler, comic with perfect timing, and oh yah, he was killer on the banjo. I'd never heard a banjo before hearing him on the record my cousin brought over to play on my folks console player. The banjo didn't sound like a guitar, didn't sound like much of anything I'd heard before, except maybe the bailalaika from the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack. Part strum, part twang, I was mesmerized by the intricate sound. You just don't get that from playing scales on a piano, let me tell you.

So somewhere after the release of King Tut, Martin turned from stage sensation to actor and along with leaving the stage, I thought the banjo music had ended. I was delighted to read recently that in fact, Martin had kept up his banjo playing and recently released his first CD of original songs.

He's been called a renaissance man for doing so many varied things with his career. He notes "Well, in a strange way, I don't have a job, so I have a lot of time on my hands. When I do work, it might be very concentrated, and it might be months where you're not really doing anything except maybe playing the banjo or writing something. You know, there's a lot of time in the day if you're not working 9 to 5."

The life of the artist isn't plotted out carefully, predictably, at least at the pace we associate with other occupations. It wends and winds and wanders, and as along as we keep letting the art teach us what to do, then we'll keep on making art and connections with people who feel the same way.

Time and Money

Today a coworker of mine gathered a bunch of us together to talk about a new blog she'd been asked to create for a special group of constituents. We batted around ideas, tried to figure out what the special group needed, and attempted to set some goals. It's not an easy project - blogs are wonderful, open-ended things which means she could do almost anything, but the terrible, difficult thing about blogs is that they are open-ended things which can quickly lose focus.

At one point, I took over the driving of the web-browser, showing what I had done on this blog and Babaylan Files blog, then a little bit on how I used the Center's Facebook group to promote the content on the blog. We wrapped the meeting with a few suggestions for her to try out and she thanked me, saying something to the effect of "If I had the time and money, I would so do what you're doing, Rebecca." To which I blinked bemusedly. Time? Money? I just sort of do what needs to be done, and I've learned a bunch in the last few months through trial and error. Time and money didn't seem to be part of the organic nature of my approach.

But as I got to thinking about it, I could see why a person would think it took time and money to blog. Sure the platforms are free and sometimes the content is just aggregations of other content freely available, but it does take time to use the applications and keep the codes from falling apart. If I were to pay myself a wage for what I did as a professional web management specialist, then I could be making a bunch more than I do at my bread job. "If's" are not "nows" though and I realized that she was quantifying the work I'm doing right now in terms I hadn't before. It was something that for her would take away from the things she already enjoys doing - it would take time and money away from her lifestyle to create what I just sort of do on my own.

Like I hinted at in an earlier post, I blog for very practical reasons - to connect with other people and bring together information I'm interested in. The folks I follow on Facebook are pretty much literary writers and art-activists, but there are also a few entrepreneurs. My Twitter feed (@wordbinder) is heavier on the entrepreneurial types, because they are all so incredibly energetic about staying positive, finding ways to connect, and keeping hope in the wildest dreams. They've actually taught me the most about social networking, how to set up hashtags, how to retweet good content, how to keep in contact with their larger audience who don't necessarily reply to every tweet or post they create.

Keeping in contact through content became the lesson of the entrepreneurs. I want to not only connect with writers and activists, I want to offer something relevant to the communities. About six weeks ago I started hashtagging tweets I sent out on a thematic basis. Each workday, I have a focus point and a promise to myself that I would tweet something on the daily topic:

#MondayMuse - A simple writing prompt, something that could jump start a blog entry, essay, or poem.

#TechniqueTues - A simple revision strategy, some new way of looking at old work that might revitalize a sagging project.

#WiseWeds - A quote from an author, preferably a woman, about the craft of writing. Why just women writer's quotes? Because I don't know as many women writers as I do male writers. This gave me an excuse to look up famous women's writers and touch their work.

#ThoughtfulThurs - A new piece of technology that impacts publishing. I thought about renaming this #TechThurs but thought that name would conflict with the Tuesday tweets.

#FridayFind - A blog entry, new book release, cool video, anything that reflects a sense of creativity, possibility, and hopefully community.

I caught the hashtagging fever soon after creating this list and expanded to joining the #writers twibe , then creating the #memoirists twibe and the #babaylan twibe.

Hashtagging has kept me focused on mindcasting vs simple lifecasting, and Twitter/Facebook has given me practice on staying relevant to my goals.

The tricky part has been figuring out those goals - they have to do with writing, storytelling, community, but they're also about growing up FilAm, Philippine Scouts, indigenous/land-based spirituality, motherhood, and being Catholic. There's a touch of living in the 70's-80's in there too. This is the stuff I want to write about, the worlds all bound up in my experience.

Making the time and money to do just that is the journey for me, to create the space to do what only I can do - tell the stories in my heart.

All links appearing were accessed this same date.


Sunlight on a Far Shore

I missed the silver anniversary reunion of the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society earlier this month, but our chapter president sent me a few highlights.

Even with Memorial Day 2009 officially over, I still think about my grandfather, Arcadio Mabanglo, his story of surviving the Bataan Death March and bringing his six daughters to the US in the mid-50's.

Lolo retired before I was born, but the US Army was in his blood. He believed in the Army as if it was his religion, and perhaps it was. I'm still trying to know who he was as a person, a dreamer, a father, a traveler. He's been gone... too long now, 15 years maybe? But his straightback, gud'dam, no-nonsense sensibility lingers like Aqua Velva aftershave tinged with Irish Spring soap.

I've got his discharge papers for every stint he finished from the time he enlisted in the Philippine Scouts to the day he retired, but no pictures of him during his service. I remember seeing a black and white picture of him and his buddies sitting in and around a jeep, taken I think during the Korean War. I've looked for the picture, but haven't found it. So much was lost when they moved from the house on Atlantic street to their condo.

Stories flash like sunlight on a far shore, snippets of memory - the roundness of his voice, his sharp pointed finger like a whip in the air when he spoke, his shoes all polished and in a line stretching from one side of his small room to another. He liked to sleep alone, he said of the bunk covered in a green Army blanket. Too used to sleeping alone even with Lola in the next room with her double bed. The blue ink of his signatures, the hand from an older time when penmanship was taught. The tall greeness of his corn crop, white twine strung in careful triangles to give pole beans a chance to climb. The rabbit my grandmother insisted he keep when it wandered into his garden. And how much he loved the color green. He said it was because he was born in May and the stone for May is the emerald.

I search for my grandfather still, the memory of him, the unspoken stories I didn't know to ask about when I was a teen. I find him among the stories I hear from veterans still alive and their children, and from people who research the Scouts in present day.

Here's Joe Calugas talking about his father, the only Filipino Medal of Honor recipient and I wonder, did Lolo know him?

I'm grateful to people like Victor Verano, history buff and reenactor, who take the time to interview folks like Felipe Fernandez and publish their conversations. I'm ordering Memoirs of a Philippine Scout Cavalryman to read Felipe's words and try to see how my grandfather lived those days before and during the Japanese occupation. They're not my grandfather's words, but Felipe remembers Arcadio and told me how hard he worked as a Scout.

I just remembered that my grandfather wrote letters often. I wonder where those letters went and what did they say?

It's too easy to get discouraged realizing that I'll never know the whole story of my grandfather, but I know I need to at least write what I do know, talk with my parents about him, keep searching for the photos and letters just on the off chance their in a box somewhere forgotten.

It's not just about honoring him, though, it's about recapturing the stories that were passing me by without my realizing it. That's the treasure for me, the finding of the stories, and weaving them with the memories I have of him still.

Listening and remembering, telling the story. Letting the ancestors live again.


Dancing on the 'Net

It's been said that writing is a solitary art at it's core. Audience is important - writer's write for someone usually, even if that someone is themselves. But solitary is lonely and isolating, and I've discovered that community is something as needful as words for me.

I joined Twitter tentatively, shyly, and mostly to get my fix of Neil-Gaiman-Wil-Wheaton-isms. These guys are as entertaining in 140 characters as they are on blogposts and in books. Like the proverbial paperclip often used in visualization and manifestation practices, suddenly everyone I knew was on Twitter and had been for a while. So I friended them, finding that many posted more often to Twitter than to their blog. Makes sense, 140 characters is easier to bash out on the fly than a long, composed post.

Twitter became my gateway drug to Facebook (yah everyone was doing it anyway, right?) and, what started as an experiment in social networking designed to exercise my inner geek-fangrrl, rapidly became my way to find and connect with writers and entrepreneurs and visionary artists and social activists and just generally cool and interesting people. I got swept up in FB games for about a month, then when one crashed, I realized that what I really wanted from FB and Twitter was community, people who were doing stuff like I was doing, usually more successfully, but always with heart and humor.

I was getting comfy with my small circle (blob? network? web?) of friends, but then the The Center for Babaylan Studies started a FB group. I became one of the editors of the Babaylan Files a few months ago, but it didn't quite capture my attention right away. It seemed like a vast project for a very small group of people. With the FB group, though, I discovered hundreds of people interested in babaylan practices, who, like me, had trouble finding good resources for understanding babaylan concepts. I had a purpose as editor and thankfully at the same time, new material about babaylans was emerging - the 2010 conference was taking shape. Video and text conversations were happening. Books and CDs were being reviewed.

On top of that, there were people who I'd 'met' in passing through that babaylan Yahoo group who were actually online when I was online. I could chat with them about concepts I didn't understand, practices I wanted to explore, and how to live a spiritual heritage. I 'met' new people who wanted to know what I thought about babaylan practices and the response to my offering the Tao Po! writing workshop has been incredible. I found community. I found connection. I found a place opposite of isolation.

Ironically, this has lead me back to the core, back to the solitary nature of writing, back to creating and sharing the stories I've been given to share. Balancing community and self will be tricky -- wait, let's reframe that -- it will be a dance to a rhythm I'm hearing once more.

I've learned a lot about social networks these past few weeks, what I like about them, who I enjoy being connected with, what the strengths and weaknesses of each site. A person could spend all their time leveraging social networks to do amazing things, but I never want to lose sight of the fact that for me, it's a dance between self and community, offering and receiving, and making things that were never there before through the power of story.


Ira Glass on Storytelling

I discovered This American Life right about the time I started Telling. I'm not a regular NPR listener but when a friend mentioned a story about The Rubber Room, I had to hunt the program down. I was intrigued not only about the story of suspended teachers held in limbo by the New York City Board of Education, but by the way the piece was put together, that unique combination of storytelling and interviews. There's a particular style to Ira Glass's pieces that makes them easy to get into and think about - the mastery of Telling.

So when Hubby mentioned that he had done vidcasts talking about Storytelling, I had to track them down. What he says about finding and telling stories, crafting and moving through the process of creativity, and ultimately being tenacious about one's art were all things I needed to hear tonight.

Although he says there are only two building blocks to good storytelling, he actually identifies three - sequence of actions, an unanswered but answerable question, and a moment of reflection. All three make up good narrative whether for broadcast, literature, or performance storytelling.

In part 2, he emphasizes that finding and creating a story will take as much or perhaps more time than the actual production of the story. This makes sense, but I often get caught up in the production of a piece before I really know and have the story sunk into me.

In part 3, Glass reminds creatives that our vision and our execution are often gapped, especially at the beginning, and that that gap is when most people quit. Of course he says, Don't Quit.

In part 4, he encourages us to be ourselves, to not try to be the people we admire who are doing the thing we want to be doing, but to also remember that stories are best told when they show how relationships affects the narrator.

A terrific group of vids I'm glad Hubby found. I've got lots of thought and soul food for the journey.


Slam Poetry and Saltlines

One of the beauties of symposia and conferences is how it creates an immediate sense of community, of kapwa, in the sense of a shared experience and the sense of identification with the other participants. We all care deeply about women of color, care for each other, and care for our own experiences. We all moved to both support each other's work but to also express our experiences as succinctly and creatively as possible.

The four workshops gave participants a chance to learn and practice new skills. I wish I'd been able to see everyone's workshop! Mako Fitts of Seattle University provided a workshop on Organizing and Activism. Iolanda Palmer of the WSU Fine Arts department provided a workshop on Feminist Art. Hisami Yoshida of the Washington State Department of Corrections provided a workshop on Advocacy and Social Change. I had a few students in each of my workshops which gave me a chance to interact more closely with each participant and learned as much as I hope I gave.

Friday night of the symposium featured a poetry slam by WSU's GLBTA, mc'd by Alex Stefanova, founder of Q-Poetry. The slam was high energy and diverse, exactly what I'd hoped for a first slam poetry experience. The memorization amazed me. Long stanzas, repeated refrains, and emotive storytelling all wrapped up into incredible performances. The slam wound late into the night and I left before I got a chance to see Andrea Gibson's solo performance. Thankfully she and the others from Saltlines returned the next day and gave a performance and poetry workshop. From the exercise, I wrote this:

the old man and the young girl dressed in cloth beaten
from palm fronds strung White Privilege up on a clothesline
to hang damp and writing in the East wind

wind whipped across the plantation, brushed against
his uniform, lifting him hapless and helpless while
the people gathered to celebrate

celebrate the end of he with the cigarette whip,
he who paced on lion's paws, teeth gleaming
in moonlight, he who thundered like a thousand
brass gongs, holding one hand out to give
the measure of their oppression
holding one hand back tight as a fist, sharp bolo
knife to divide father from son from kinsman

he did not think he would be strung up so
tendrilled by telecom lines, game show lights,
and the relentless advertisements for things
untenable when work is measured
in centavos, or dollars paid beneath the table

he roars and gongs and flaps in the wind
but these are whispers, a distant drone
beneath the oralist's chant, the call
to remember that gathers the people into
a healing embrace

Flexing my on-the-spot writing muscles caused no small amount of brain-sprain, but it was good to workout again. I tried to remember my workshop exercises and the Slinky that helps me remember how connected all things are in our experiences.

Alex was the host of Saltline's workshop and filled in while the group was getting themselves coordinated. She introduced me to poet Staceyann Chin, a Jamaica immigrant whose use of haiku drills deeply into her heritage and complex family history.

Poetry eludes me still. It resonates with my sense of lyric memoir, but the discipline slips through my fingertips too easily. Slam poetry is incredibly powerful and political, slicing through social conventions to the heart of complex issues. I could not help but be inspired by Saltline's risk-taking and Alex's drive to express her art.


Lunch with the Speakers

Before the Women of Color symposium officially launched, we gathered together at the Fireside Restaurant in the "new" part of town, wheatfields converted to strip malls and health care facilities in the last decade. I'd visited the Fireside in 2006 when it was only a few months old - my in-laws took me to dinner there to celebrate my first gig at WSU. It was a bit surreal for me since I had only related to them as their daughter-in-law for so many years. They were treating me like an out-of-town guest and I remember stumbling over small talk because of the shift.

I'm not a naturally gregarious person and I have to work hard to make small talk. I got lots of practice when I arrived at the Fireside this year when I arrived a bit early for the lunch and most everyone else arrived quite late. The restaurant had lost our reservation and so I sat in the lobby waiting for one of the organizers to arrive. I was feeling a displaced sort of otherness, untethered by my own nervousness heightened by the realization that I had left all my contact information back at my in-law's house.... along with my cel phone.

After about 10 minutes, a well-dressed woman came in who possessed an assurance that I recognized as someone who knew where she belonged. After confirming that the group she was with didn't have a reservation, she wandered toward me. I mustered the courage to introduce myself and ask if she was with the Women of Color Conference. She was kind and gracious, another Rebecca, and we tried to make small talk together. Our conversation was halting, but we learned about our children and our connections to WSU. She told me she was the senator from the Native American Women's Association and a returning student, and I think that's when I found myself recursively and self-consciously relating my connections with Swil Kanim and Gene Tagaban, performers she wasn't familiar with. I couldn't find much else to say and I sensed that I was making more of them and her heritage than she felt comfortable with. I'd fallen into that reductionist trap of race and I didn't know how to get myself out of it.

My closest ties to the realm of the indigenous is through the Native American culture - I still know so little about the Mangyan and T'boli cultures and they are not tied to the land on which I walk. It was awkward, and I became increasingly aware of my pushing for connection with her. She was kind and patient, thankfully, and after a few long pauses, the rest of the group arrived.

I found myself at the end of the table with Turea Erwin, the director of the Women's Center and Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith of UNCW. I studied my menu, searching for something vegetarian, nothing expensive, but perhaps different from what I'd usually order. The room was charged by hunger, a feeling of lateness, and a sense of not belonging. The restaurant never did find our reservation but by the time we were seated, there was enough space to accommodate the eight of us. The sweet potato fries were wonderful as was the portabello mushroom burger I had. Conversation varied from complaining about the weather, talking about the isolation inherent in the Palouse, and activism. We were slowly getting to know each other, but in a tired sort of way. We hadn't picked up on the energy of the conference and I think each of us was feeling a responsibility to create that energy, travel-lagged and hungry as we were.

I learned about Kimberly's work as a diversity trainer as she told us about how the African American's in her constituency were forced out by whites in the early part of the 20th century, relegated to the periphery, yet still a part of the economy. Making the majority aware of the black population was the first task - history had erased the memory of those early people, the first non-slaves in the area. The awareness had to come for both sides of the fence, black and white, for the African American's had forgotten their history too, and accepted complacently their second-citizen status in the area. Her frustration was evident and we were all amazed at the revisionist memory of her area.

I jotted down these notes:

Activism and Advocacy ==>> awareness, "being aware," "bringing awareness," "acting on awareness," stating the problem and telling the story.

We might not always know how to relate to each other in those first awkward moments of relationships, but when we tell the story of what we're passionate about, then we begin to create community, deeper community.

The speaker's lunch was a start, and over the next 24 hours I would find myself transformed by the community.


Online Writing Workshop Begins April 1

Although I haven't finished blogging about the WSU Coalition for Women Students Women of Color symposium, I've had interest in extending the workshop I presented to an online environment and thought I would open up the workshop to the greater community.

The workshop begins April 1st and will run initially for six weeks. It's open to all levels of writers and all genres of writing. I see myself as a facilitator rather than an instructor and I'll be working with the participants to create a safe, energetic, and supportive environment where writers can be in community with each other.

Here's the description:

Tao Po! Sharing Ourselves, Changing the World

Our lives are stories made of stories: ancestor stories, environment stories, relationship stories, role stories. Many of these stories are given to us without our awareness, while others are built from our experiences.

Using the babaylan concepts of kapwa, loob, and Tao Po! this workshop will focus on creatively expressing our stories throught the written word to help us find and create meaning in our experiences. We will reflect on small and big events, tease out the stories that have been given to us, and share our writing with each other. Our stories exist in the details of our lives and sharing requires a belief that our stories matter to not just ourselves but to others.

By writing down and sharing our experiences, we pass on the gift of our lives to others. Even if we are not physically with the reader, our writing can provide a new perspective and new information they would not otherwise know. Bringing our experiences to the page, even if they are cloaked with metaphors or changed slightly to protect the innocent and the guilty, a kernel of truth can be revealed. Isolation divides, but community can heal if approached with honesty and integrity. That's the beauty and wonder of writing.

Each of us has a story to tell; that's what makes each of us storytellers.
If you are a storyteller, you can write.
If you can write, you can change the world.

Leave a comment here for more details or leave an email to find out how to sign up.


Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor received her BA in Humanities from Washington State University in 1998 and her MA degree in English with honors from Western Washington University in 2003 for her thesis "Notes from the Margins," a mixed work of memoir and fiction. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in the Byline Magazine, Katipunan Literary Magazine and the online magazine Haruah. In Spring 2008, her piece "Becoming a Woman of Color" was the First Place Winner in the Writing it Real Personal Essay Contest hosted by Sheila Bender. Her short story "Yellow is for Luck" is forthcoming in Growing Up Filipino II, edited by Cecilia Brainard, an anthology for young adults. Currently, she is a Senior Editor at a non-profit scientific publisher. She performs regularly as a storyteller, and her Twitter handle is "@wordbinder".