Shooting First: A New Year’s Resolution

When I used to play basketball regularly, I was a terrible shooter. I could make maybe 5% of 3s, if I ever tried to shoot any. My medium range shot was iffy. Though I did have an okay inside game and was pretty spot on for lay-ups. But this limited shooting ability had me develop my passing game. I was never going to be a spot up shooter, nor was I going to blaze past people with crossovers. I could handle the ball and dish to the right players, set picks, and maybe find myself spots on the floor.

I enjoyed the thrill of the assist, of zipping a bounce pass between defenders, of hitting a cutter in stride for a lay-up, of drawing defenders and then kicking to the man spotting up in the corner. Ball movement, unselfish play, getting everyone involved, that’s what I played for.

And as a pass first player, defenders were a lot looser on me. They were not expecting me to take shots. Since they knew I preferred to flip the ball to a teammate, or to pass up a shot, they thought they did not need to defend me. Which meant that once I saw them slacking off, then I would drive into the lane, surprising them with an open lay-up they were not expecting. Or finding a spot I could make a shot from while they were off double teaming a better shooter. It’s always easier to sink a shot when you’re all by your lonesome.

I get to thinking about this kind of mentality now that I am thinking about how I plan to spend the coming year. I realize that I have largely tried to adopt this pass first mentality with a lot of work that I’ve done. As an editor, I’ve always chosen to assign big stories to my writers, rather than taking them myself. I’ve always been reluctant to step up and take responsibility for things. Rather than do something myself, I will pull a team together and distribute tasks. Only when I’ve got no other choice, only when no one else is open and I am, do I like to take the shot.

Which is well and good I guess in certain situations. But the thing is, this year looks like I will be doing some things which do not allow for me to pass off. Which will necessitate my stepping up and taking the shot. To use an easily recognizable basketball reference (and not to compare my talent level in any way to these two, because really, that would be insane), I have to shift from being a playmaking Lebron, and turn into a take-over-the-game Kobe. I have reached a point in my career where I have to elevate, have to escalate what I do. It’s time for me to step up.

You can’t pass off in the classroom. You can distribute the discussion, you can involve the whole class in activities and that whole thing. But when it comes time for lectures, for presentations, there’s no passing off. You are the teacher, no matter what you do, you have to control the classroom and the activity therein. That sounds like mostly playmaker work, but when the moment comes to step up and take over, I cannot be reluctant to launch into lectures when they are needed.

And in writing, well, there is no one to pass off to. I have been struggling with this. I keep wondering if the lack in one’s writing is indicative of the lack of one’s moral fortitude. I think of whether it displays the wanting qualities of one’s character. Or if one can write through those things, in the same way that, when the fourth quarter’s winding down and the other team’s in the lead, you can push everything out of your mind, can push out all of the messes that you’ve made in your life, all the bad decisions and wrong turns, and you can just focus on that moment, take over, and at least in that one aspect, overcome and win the game.

I hope that, for all the mistakes and failures and limitations that I observe so acutely in myself, and which help to inform and enrich my writing, that I can similarly get through all that and finish the work and get it out there.

I plan to work on more films this year. I am dreaming of directing my first feature. I am deathly scared that it will be shit. I want to pass off. I do not want to be responsible, for I would be responsible for a failure if I mess it up. If it’s crap, then I will have wasted the time and efforts of everyone who will work on it. But I have already passed off. I’ve already allowed other people to attempt to execute my vision. It’s time that I did this, time that I stepped up and took the shot.

I have been teaching myself that failure is important. I have launched into a lot of bad writing, some of it I was able to stop, some of it got out into the world. But each failure teaches us something.

Similarly, I have to get used to the idea that we have to take shots. We have to miss shots. We have to work our way out of shooting slumps. Again I use Kobe Bryant as a model here. Sometimes he has terrible shooting nights. But he keeps shooting even when the shots aren’t going down. He shoots until he finds his rhythm. It’s a simple thing to understand, you can’t find your rhythm if you aren’t taking the shot.

I will say it again for my own benefit, so that I can take heart and hold onto the idea: You can’t find your  rhythm if you aren’t taking shots.

I have to accept that once I do this, once I adopt the shoot first policy, then I will be expecting other people to feed me the ball, to pass it to me. It’s on me to make it. I have to accept that there will be off nights, nights when shots don’t go down. But unlike the depressive person that I have been, the one that wallows in shit and flays himself for each aspect of failure, I have to accept that there will be missed shots, that there will be off nights. I have to move on from the last shot, move on from the last night, move on from the last failure, and be ready to take the shot the next time that I get a pass. And not only that, but I have to learn how to create my shot. I have to learn to understand my skills and abilities better so that I can execute, create, move, score.

Allowing for off nights, this means that there will be big nights too that offset it. Those nights when it feels like everything is going down, it’s all flowing, and I can do no wrong. When this happens, I have to ride that crest and keep shooting. It won’t happen every night, but once I start shooting first, there is a chance that I might have that magical 81 point game, or those consistent 40 point performances. The only way to get better is to step up, to take risks.

2013 gimme the ball. It’s on me.


reaching a point where i have to take a shot. and i have to keep shooting

2012 in Review: Teaching/Academic Life

I quit yet another job this year. I served as the Deputy Director for Marketing and Operations of the UP Press until October 31st, but I feel that my heart had gone out of it sometime mid-year. It was a number of factors, but among them was the realization that I am pretty good at teaching, and I am more of an asset in the classroom than as an administrator. Put the demanding nature of admin work against the drive to write and do research, and it was clear that I would be much happier as a straight up academic than an academic and administrator.

This might sound pretentious, or as if I am speaking from some ivory tower; any talk of the academic life is precariously perched and always ready to fall into such pretentiousness. But then as I chronicle 2012, as I count the hours down to 2013, I have to really admit that this was the year when I sat down and thought, hell dude, you can probably teach for the rest of your life. I had been resistant to the idea of deciding on a career for any prolonged period of time.

I remember when I was in high school my English teacher said, “You know, Javier, you would make a good teacher.”

And what I said, under my breath, though I don’t know if she was able to hear it, was, “God, why would I ever want to be like one of you people?”

I obviously did not think much of the teaching profession. I remember most of my elementary and junior high teachers fondly. But my high school in Cubao, well, it was a mixed bag, if I’m being kind. There were some terrible teachers, and some with a terrible meanness to them. You could see they were frustrated, tired, only going through the motions. There were some that were inspired, and those I gravitated towards. But hell, I was in high school, I had issues with authority, I thought I was smarter than everyone else. And thus I looked at the teaching profession with disdain.

The first time I tried teaching, fresh out of undergrad, I didn’t make the cut. A few years later, I find myself teaching at Miriam. Then I jump to UP. Terrible things happen in my first year, petty admin BS and things that I felt were grounds for me to leave. I vow never to teach again. Ondoy hits and all my books and other teaching materials are wiped out, and I take that as a sign that I should not be a teacher. It’s the universe literally washing out all vestiges of my teaching career.

I bounce around a few years, and here I am, back in the university. But much more experienced, with a better sense of things (at least I like to think), and I feel a sense of confidence and control. It’s like I was able to overcome a lot of my personal shit, a lot of the things that hampered me from improving as a teacher.

I have had to rebuild my teaching library. It’s still an ongoing process. I have been lucky enough to have received a lot of help from colleagues who generously help me with books.

But more than books, I can say that my colleagues in the department, especially the junior faculty, help to inspire me to go into the classroom every day. It’s wonderful in that there’s not so much a sense of competition as it is a sense of esprit de corps, of everyone pitching in to help everyone else out. It’s not just in teaching or syllabus design either, it’s when someone just needs a drink, needs to hang back and let loose. This is, perhaps, one of the most productive times in my life, and I attribute a good deal of that to the way that the people around me make me better.

When I was teaching in Miriam I carried around a hip flask. For all that the students were wonderful, so many other things hindered teaching and development, and I found myself having to take swigs just to get through the days. Now, that is a bad memory, and I don’t think I will ever find myself doing that again.

Rather, even when the days get tough, even when the kids are working as hard as I would wish, and the classroom isn’t clicking, I feel like I can find ways to keep at it.

Further, I got to attend my first international conference as a scholar. Last year I attended the Fil-American bookfest in San Francisco, but that was as a writer and independent publisher. This year, along with MIc Chua and Emil Flores, I got to deliver a paper in Oxford. that’s insane. Sometimes I say it and I have trouble believing it. And it was thanks to, well, pretty much every friend I’ve had. Some helped out in big ways, donating artwork, money, time, or whatever in our fundraising efforts. We pulled together an incredibly fun gig that helped us raise money for the trip. Just thinking back on it now I feel my chest swell, it was this wonderful time when I could not deny that the people I have been lucky to be around and to know not only make me better, but allow me to do things that I could never have imagined.

Towards the end of the year I got published in the Philippine Journal for American Studies. I got to write about the Punisher storyline in Civil War. At the time of writing and submission, I didn’t think much of what I was doing, but once it came out, I got a true sense of fulfillment.

It’s odd to think that I now have a sense of what I want to do. I have avoided committing to things for so long. Now, well, here it is. I am hoping that this career and this decision takes. I am hoping that the coming years will prove productive and that I can make contributions as both teacher and scholar.

2012 in Review: Writing

So I think after this year, I can sort of take a rest. Not a long one mind you, but maybe I’ve earned the right to not demand so much of myself. I know that sounds close to the verge of resting on one’s laurels, but I don’t imagine that’s what I would be doing. After having released at least one book a year since 2009, I do think that maybe I can take a year off and just focus on revisions and other things.

Okay, no, that’s bullshit. Read more of this post

2012 in Review: Music

Last night I was at the rocking birthday part of Ina Santiago and we were head banging and dancing (well, she and a lot of other people were, I was kind of jiggling in my seat) at Craft’s Glam Rock night which featured cover band Trinidad. And while taking in the Bon Jovi and David Lee Roth it made sense to start thinking about how I have been working and getting back into music this year.

I talk about how music saved my life in high school (I mention it in the paper which I gave, more on this below) and how it has been such an integral part of my life and the way that I interact with the world. Though I was never much of a musician, playing music and loving music form a large part of my identity. I struggled to make it as a musician for a long time, dreamed the rock star dream. Sometime in 2009 I gave it all up. In reaction to the big break-up of that year I put my guitar away. Right now, I don’t know where the bass that served me for many good years is out in the wind, and I guess I should track it down.

But I put the guitars away and stopped writing about music. I still listened to music, but things had changed.

In 2012 though, I picked up the guitar again. Not only that, but I made the jump from bass to guitar. Part of this is thanks to friends Adam David and Michael David, who pulled me into a gig, and that got me started playing. Once I had a guitar in my hand, I missed playing music and realized that I wanted to play again. Over the course of the year, I played a couple times with them at Sputnik, before it closed.

I bought my first electric guitar, a Samik Telecaster style cherry red scorcher. And an orange amp. I’ve pulled ’em out at every possible chance. Again, I’m not much of a musician, but I enjoy playing music.

After gigging for about ten years on and off, and then quitting for almost three years, I took to the stage again with Gang Bading at the Komiks rOX benefit gig. We played a bunch of 90s covers and it was hell of fun. I can’t think of a group of guys whose music I jive with as much, and I am looking forward to playing some more music with them in the coming years (yes guys, this is me trying to drop hints, come on, we gotta do a classic rock set and I can let rip my heavily distorted version of “Heart of Gold”).

And towards the end of the year I got to join the junior faculty as part of the band, playing guitar and bass on one song. It ain’t a performance to write home about, but it was fun to be playing music, and further to play music with people that I just like hanging out with. It’s great in that being able to connect with people has an affinity for in a way that one loves just helps to develop camaraderie and friendship. Sounds like a big dollop of cheese, but yeah, I’m getting a little sentimental and hey the world didn’t end, so lemme have this little shout out.

Beyond playing music, I got to attend some really great concerts. I was near broke and had to borrow money from friends to go (it took a semester for my papers to be processed and for me to get my salary as a professor) but I got to watch Death Cab for Cutie and Toe. That was pretty amazing. I had dreamed of watching Smashing Pumpkins live since I was a teenager, and braving the terrible storm I got to do it with some of my best friends and my sister. Got to catch Snow Patrol and Keane on someone else’s dime too. And towards the end of the year, saw the Wolfgang 20th anniversary concert. To cap it all was glam rock night, which is now something I will want to go to regularly.

I also got to present a paper about music. I talked about music and poetry, and how we can read music using a literary background. Presenting with good friends and faculty bandmates was another fun thrill. Thanks too to new friend Aine, who helped me write this paper. Nothing like talking to specialists who challenge your ideas and help to push you into different territory and ways of thinking.

I also got to listen to a lot of new music this year, as evidenced by the previous post with the list of favorite songs. Music has always been integral to the way that I am in the world. And I guess I am happy that I have gotten to engage it again, and most importantly, start making music again.

Working Through 2012

With the apocalypse seemingly averted, and our lives going on as usual and as expected, I’ve found the impulse to take stock of things. I am in an in-between age where I am past my physical prime, but also find that I am not yet so old as to have a right to nostalgia and to looking back and grumbling about one’s youth.

So I guess a project, in the form of a series of blog entries, will be to consider where I am and how I’m doing after 30-some years of walking the earth. I plan to do this over the course of the next few days. Read more of this post

The Other Instrument

I began playing the bass in high school. I was fifteen. It was for a girl. This will probably show up in a future YA novel I think I’ve got in me. I didn’t know many people at school yet and I got put into a group for a presentation. The other people in the group knew how to play guitar or percussions or whatever. And the girl, she could sing. (And man have I been a sucker for girls who sing since.) I didn’t know how to play, and up to that point the only instruments I had been acquainted with were bells and the recorder. The recorder was required, and because I could not sing, I had been put in the bell choir many years before. 

So I went down to the corner and started asking people to teach me to play the bass. I was lucky that one of my first friends in the country was and still continues to be an amazing bass player. Formerly PJ and going by Poldo now, he lent me his guitar and we spent a lot of time on his stoop as he taught me the basics. He showed me some basslines he wanted me to learn, particularly memorable Green Day’s “Longview” (and man wasn’t that such an amazing song when it came out?). 

I wound up sticking with the bass because it was what all the other bands around needed, and what most other people didn’t want to play. Everyone wanted to sing, be the lead guitar, be the drummer. Those were the cool instruments. No one ever noticed the bass, and even more, no one ever notices the bass player. Okay maybe if it’s someone like Paul McCartney or Sting, or someone as wild and talented as Flee. Me, I can name bunches and bunches of favorite bassists, because, of course, I studied lots of them. But most people can’t. Bass players, they are there, they provide the backbone, the groove. They aren’t the stars.

And that was totally fine with me. As a bass player of limited skill, I was well and good with people not really taking notice of my playing. Let the guy shredding solos get all the attention. I was happy to be supplying a nice steady bassline, syncing with the drums and laying the groundwork for the groove. 

I did this, more or less happily, for about thirteen years with a variety of bands. 

Then I stopped playing music. I had my heart broken. By a musician. The experience is rather well documented in my second book. I just couldn’t find it in me to get back into the studio, to make music. And I had bandmates who were, let’s say, less supportive of what I was going through that I would have hoped. I extricated myself from the whole music-making experience.

Then a few months ago, while dealing with a pretty bad manic-depressive bout (which led to among other things the writing and finishing of my latest book in about a month) I was with friends Adam David and Michael David. They were performing and I decided to tag along. I picked up Adam’s old acoustic and jammed with them. I don’t know how we sounded, as I was pretty drunk and far gone. But it felt good, playing again. 

A week or so later we were doing pretty much the same thing. Except this time I was wielding an axe borrowed from good friend Karl de Mesa. This night I wound up similarly smashed. I woke up hung over with a box of KFC two-piece chicken in the pillow beside me. I could remember very little of the night and what music we played, but a couple weeks later my friend Lotte showed me a video of Adam, Paolo, and me rocking out to “Paradise City” and I have to say, for a drunk dude who would not even remember playing the song, it wasn’t half bad. 

Which brings us to my current attempts at playing guitar. I have left the bass behind and am transitioning to the guitar, which has, for many many years, been a rather intimidating instrument. Sure I’ve played the guitar, made stabs at it. Entertained thoughts of playing guitar instead of bass. But I would always wind up back on the bass. It was what I was comfortable with, what I knew. 

Now, in a couple of weeks, I will be taking the stage for the first time wielding an electric guitar and playing as part of a band. It is an exciting prospect, frightening and exhilarating and challenging and many other emotions that well up as I strum those strings. 

In the practice studio, there are things that keep happening that form a kind of cognitive gap between my thinking and playing. I will be playing the guitar, will be playing the right notes and doing what I should be doing in the song. So my hands and a good part of my brain are on point. But I am listening to the music coming together and I hear the bassline and I focus on that. I think that I am the one playing the bass and I start grooving to it. Then I’ll realize that that isn’t me and I’ll try and find the guitar and find what I am sounding like. 

Other times I will be strumming and thinking, hey that guitar’s not sounding bad, where is that coming from. And then I will realize it’s me. Okay I know that sounds like I’m bragging, but really, I fail to realize that I am the one playing the guitar. It’s like my mind refuses to make a connection, and it’s only when I flub my fingers and I stop playing that I realize, hey, that crunchy distorted sound, that was you, man. 

I am enjoying the transition though. I am discovering a new capacity which I had assumed I could not do. I love playing the guitar, and I am enjoying it and having much more fun with it than I did with the bass. I’ll sometimes not be sure if I am doing alright, and I’ll ask the dudes I’m jamming with, Adam, Vincenz Serrano, and Joseph Saguid, if what I am doing is working, and they will nod and let me go on wailing on the guitar. 

Here’s to hoping that the next couple of weeks of practice allow me to develop the skills needed to justify my presence onstage. All I want to do is rock. And I hope that my brain wraps my head around it and I can just get up on there and make some noise. 

The Pants Problem

In the mid-Noughties I had a pair of corduroy pants that I wore to almost every event or gig.  I didn’t have many clothes then. Buying clothes had yet to become a regular thing, as for almost a decade the only clothes I had had come from Balikbayan boxes or the tiangge or the recently in vogue ukay-ukay. It was at the ukay-ukay, in fact, probably three years before the event, that I acquired the corduroys. Thing was that I got the corduroys sometime after freshman year, when I was still thin and exercising, but by the time of the gig in question, I had fattened up and was sporting a major beer belly. It was then that the clothing malfunction happened.

I was in the bathroom and I stepped away from the urinal and up to the sink to wash my hands. I was in a rush as our band would have to be onstage soon. I tugged the pants together trying to push the button into its hole. The first time it didn’t take and after a mighty push and exhale I stopped and had to catch my breath. I mopped sweat off my brow and then tried to button the pants again.

This time it took. Then it didn’t.

The struggle between the button and my belly had come to a conclusion. The button tried to push the belly in, mightily, but for all its might it was overrun. The belly overflowed, a mass that came up over the top of the pants and then surged forward against the button.

There was a pop and then a crack. The pop came from the belly’s expelling of the button, turning it into a projectile that zinged through the air. The crack was from the button making impact with the sink above the mirror. It left a nick on the mirror.

And it left me with quite a problem, as in minutes I would have to take the stage. Then a thought: safety pin. That would surely save the day and it might have. Had the nearby 7-11 had any.

What they did have was something near enough to the safety pin in terms of function, metal clasp and all. Except that it had a butterfly on it. I think it was meant more as a scrunchie for hair or something rather than safety pin. But it was what they had. So I fastened the clasp and took the stage with the butterfly ornament atop my bulging belly. Small movements would loosen the butterfly contraption and I would cover my belly and my opening and drooping pants with my bass. In between songs I would refasten the butterfly. Until finally we left the stage and I kept drinking to mask my embarrassment and I have no idea what happened to that butterfly after that night.

Another time I sat in a plane and heard a rip. I thought it was nothing, though I did feel that there was a cool pleasant breeze around my legs.

When we disembarked and wete brought to a cottage where we were all supposed to wait for the boat that would take us all to the resort island we were headed to, I sat on a bench. I crossed my right leg up onto my left knee and let my left and drop onto my left thigh. It was there I felt the hole in my jeans, a hole so big that the pattern of my boxers was on display as if I were flying a plaid flag.

I had always worn my pants baggy, because baggy pants were the thing when I was in high school. Then as I gained weight I grew into the baggy pants. Grew into them so much so they became smug and slim fit in relation to my belly, love handles, and thighs.

Then last week I tried to put on a pair of slacks from my closet. They looked like elephant pants, the pant legs were so loose. My sister saw me in them and said, “Kuya, what are you wearing? Are you trying to look like a gangsta or something?”

“I’m not trying to look like a gangsta. These are my pants.”

“Change! Wear different pants! You look terrible!”

And so I changed. The results were the same. I could have tried out for a revival video of M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” All my khakis and slacks had gotten too big.

Now this is a happy problem. I have to acquire new pants because I am losing weight and dropping the paunch. It is a good way to know that my recent initiatives to get healthy are paying off. While the smaller belly makes for fewer humorous situations, it still signifies something good. So I am off to address this happy pants problem.