Saturday, August 26, 2006

How and Why I Won a Philippines Free Press Lit Award

…Is a goddamn mystery.

Last Wednesday, my story, “Blind Spot,” landed on second place [which I’ve uploaded on the Skirmisher for the uninhibited reading pleasure of the morbidly curious] in this year’s Philippines Free Press Literary Awards held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Makati. I wasn’t there, but my sister was.

It’s one of those genuine surprises that only rarely come. It’s like those times you’re facing a horde of Eastern Europeans with a silver MAC-10 Elite ready and loaded in your hand, only to be instantly shotgunned to death by somebody who had sneaked up behind you [Black]. Or running across no-man’s land and storming a bunker, grenades ready in your teeth, and suddenly you kick the bunker door open and Lo! There’s the smoking muzzle of a machine gun with a sniggering Nazi behind it, who proceeds in blasting you to a thousand little yucky pieces [Call of Duty: Finest Hour] [I’ll try to come up with pleasant similies next time once I get to play pleasant games].

The surprise of winning felt more or less like those things, only in this real-world instance, it felt good. Really good.

I never took “Blind Spot” seriously. I realize maybe all writers who win something always say they didn’t take their winning works seriously, but I’m stepping out of the shadows to say I really didn’t take it seriously. But so what? Big deal. It won. It probably has something that I’m just too blind to see, which is bad for me: this means I can never be trusted when it came to judging literary worth. Which means I’m a chronic hitter and misser, mostly misser. Which means this is one gaping, bleeding tsamba.

The first surprise was when Paolo Manalo emailed me several months ago that “Blind Spot” was in the short list. I didn’t even know it was accepted and published. I had emailed it I think in February 2005 without even bothering to tighten it in places. When I received no reply from the Philippines Free Press (which usually is either the bad “Oh no, please, no” or the good “We’re publishing this something, something, something”), I just shrugged it off and moved on. Last week, Paolo emailed me again and this time, it was a shotgun blast to the face: he said something like, You won, dude.

Usually, I’d gush. What Paolo didn’t see was that I was laughing my head off in genuine disbelief.

I have two reasons why I’m so happy winning in the Free Press. One, it’s the shit when you’re a guy with nothing to do but write down some daydream that hit you while doing some non-amazing household chore. Oh, did I say “chore?” Replace that with “mission.” That’s better.

Second is, aside from being one of this country’s most respected, most desired, oldest annual literary competitions, it also pays pretty good prize money – 40 grand for “Blind Spot.” Forty thousand bucks for some daydream you wrote one boring afternoon is like shit hitting the fan and discovering yeah, you can eat that shit and even like it. Ask anybody around and they’ll tell you forty grand is forty grand is forty grand. And there’s the trophy, made of glass, which my sister says is so cool it’s almost “sacred.” Like you could kneel before it and pray ten Hail Marys and feel guilty about the profanity. What makes it cool is that it says something about me having made a “great contribution to Philippine literature.” Say something like that to Gina my Guinea Pig here, and she’ll bite your testicles to make you swallow back whatever nice things you say about me. That is, if Gina were human and allowed to have some scrap of an opinion. I’m saying this because I know my pet detests me so much; whenever she sees me, she suddenly stops chewing her food and glares at me. I also stop chewing my food and glare back at her; we’re like Newman and Seinfeld greeting each other in mutual disgust. But we both know I’m boss, so I tell her things just to rub that fact in like, “One day I’m gonna sacrifice you in the name of science,” or “You know, in Peru, they fry their guinea pigs alive.”

The feel-good is double because for many Filipino writers, or maybe this is me speaking for myself, writing fiction is like fishing – you do it in your spare time. You do it when you’re through with the bathroom, when you’re done with the girlfriend, after all the day’s crap and real work. You do it when that very rare moment actually arrives where there’s only you and a blinking cursor, a tumbler of iced tea/mug of coffee/beer and old Brazilian jazz. And that’s rare. Which even makes the feel-good triple.

After I was told I won in the Free Press, my head grew so enormous you could see it from outer space. I realized it got very large and swollen when I tried walking out the door moments after reading the wonderful emails from Sarge Lacuesta (Free Press incumbent literary editor) and Paolo Manalo (Free Press former literary editor); I couldn’t go out because the sides of my head wouldn’t fit through the door. When I managed to somehow slip through by using many jars of KY Jelly and a handy chainsaw, some girl at the fastfood was so shocked at the size of my goddamn head she ran out screaming.

The old lady in the line with me tipped her eyeglasses and looked me over. She asked, How’d your head get so swollen like that?

How big you think this is, I asked, because I had no idea how grotesque my head had become.

She said, I think that’s even bigger than the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

I shrugged, in that awkward, tottering way anybody with an enormous head could be able to shrug. I told her I’m a chauvinist male pig and that when my ego gets inflated, it’s literal. I told her I just won in the Free Press.

Free what?

I said never mind.

I later tried the time-honored cure of getting my ass kicked in Fight Night by the likes of Erik Morales and Muhammad Ali. I haven’t discovered the strategy with this game yet. So I always end up a bleeding pulp on the canvass, the world spinning all around me, Mr. Padilla the referee counting, “8…9…10… You’re out!”

I took a long, cold shower. I paid Gina my Guinea Pig a visit to annoy her by scratching her nipples. She hates it. Touch her nipples and she flies up in the air, squeaking and grumbling like an old lady.

I then checked the blog, and checked the progress of my other two “top-secret” web projects whose content will be “magically” supplied purely by algorithm, just like Techmeme.

Then I asked my sister “remotely” for pictures of the event.

She said she forgot to bring the necessary gadgets. She told me there was Up Dharma Down’s female vocalist, who’s very pretty in person, but who would believe her without at least some pictures that she could email me?

My sister’s the type who impulsively gets off the bus on Roxas Boulevard to take snapshots of dead fish and ugly birds on Baywalk. On ordinary days, she takes pictures of her friends straddling some lamp post in Luneta and pretending to be hookers. You send her to an important event at some swanky hotel, you tell her it’s some fucking big deal for me to vicariously see it, and she doesn’t even bring at least a camera phone. She should’ve at least sketched the whole thing on a napkin. She should have stolen some ashtray, or one of those gold-plated metal things you always see on tables of respectable places (my office drawer in my former job was half full of Eastwood City silverware from those years of doing PR work--slash--stealing shiny things on tables—slash--convincing my female officemates to do the same—slash--assembling pirate ship made of stolen silverware inside a bottle). But no, nothing.

So I asked her, Did Cristina Hidalgo bring with her that niece or daughter or whoever that was with her at Jorge Bocobo Museum some years ago, some girl who oozed with so much hotness she gave off her own sunstorms? A girl who looked so good she probably sometimes fainted whenever she saw herself in the mirror?

She said, Who’s Cristina Hidalgo?

I said never mind. Then I either went back to Gina to snap a rubberband on her nipple, or tried reading Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, I just don’t remember which. My head was fast deflating back to normal size, and I felt dizzy and depressed and acutely caffeine-starved.


Anonymous said...

Congrats Joebs!!!

Wondered if the other head got swollen too, he, he, he!!!

Painom ka naman!!!


Anonymous said...

Congrats Joebs!!!

Wondered if the other head got swollen too, he, he, he!!!

Painom ka naman!!!


Anonymous said...

Congrats Joebs!!!

Wondered if the other head got swollen too, he, he, he!

Painom ka naman!!!!


Anonymous said...

respect! respect!

Anonymous said...

i love you joebert. you give me hope. you remind me that there's still money to be made out of writing.

Anonymous said...

ok that's fine, i just made many some other new emo backgrounds for my blog