Quickie Review: AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART by Elaine Castillo

Of the novels I’ve read so far in 2020 for Filipino-American History Month, AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART was the one that resonated the most. The Filipino-America these characters inhabit differs from the one in which I came up. But it rings true for all the ways it overlaps with my and my family’s experiences.

The ways Filipinos get by in the aftermath of trauma, whether from the Japanese Occupation during WWII or Martial Law is familiar to me. The stuff they have to go through when the emigrate or help their family members emigrate is familiar. The many secrets, white lies, superstitions, large Filipino social gatherings and the cliques within, the ways class, gender, and education intersect and create tensions that are barely suppressed by utang na loob — maybe too familiar.

The ratio of Ilocano and Pangasinan phrases to Tagalog (the language of my folks) notwithstanding, almost all of us in the diaspora know a Lolo Boy, a Bebot, and a Ka Eddie. We know what gets said about the brothers of a certain family, the doctors tried to make it but couldn’t, the nurses who were the anchors of a family, and the Ate who had more going on under the surface than you might ever suspect if you didn’t know or intensely care enough about to ask.

Quickie Review: PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING by Randy Ribay

If Gina Apostol’s INSURRECTO gives an overview of 120 years of Philippine-American history, PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING gives us history’s most contemporary slice.

With President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug war (condemned the world over for its sanction of extrajudicial killing) as a backdrop, PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING shows how a young Filipino-American man faces a choice just about all Filipinos in the diaspora face: How do you live your life in the face of the multiple horrors which have touched generations of Filipinos throughout the last century?

This can be a no-win situation. You can choose to leave the family, the barangay, the country and as a result, feel survivor’s guilt layered with whatever guilt trip others might put on you. You can stay, and escape in other ways like hiding parts of yourself, hiding your convictions, hiding your fears and concerns behind “bahala na” while trying — sometimes failing — to avoid being subsumed by the horror.

To read about a 17 year-old Filipino-American taking up this challenge in ways I never could makes him look like Harry Potter to me. Being 30 years older, let me tell you that it would’ve been easier at 17 if to imagine myself being a wizard than someone who goes “back home” and does what the protagonist here does. If “All of the adults are failing us,” as he declares in frustration, I can offer one possible explanation (though not an excuse, by any means). It could be because I didn’t have a book like PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING growing up.

Quickie Review: INSURRECTO by Gina Apostol

This has been sitting on my reading list for too long, so I figured October being Filipino American Heritage Month was as good an excuse as any to get started!

Apostol uses several layers of meta to give us an overview of the century plus of commingled history between the Philippines and the United States, from colonial times to Digong. If I’ve read correctly, I generally seem around the age of the protagonists, so a lot of the contemporary touchstones resonate with me — the Thrilla in Manila, the peccadilloes of older Titos, karaoke murders, Filipino Catholic priests, mah-jongg, San Miguel beer, aswang, shabu and extrajudicial killings. The historical touchstones I expected in a novel called INSURRECTO are all there as well: water cures, juramentados, “Damn Damn Damn the Filipinos,” Colt .45s, krags, arnis, and massacres.

But the best part is how Apostol’s centering of women throughout the narrative(s) sharply illustrate colonization’s effects on both colonizer and colonized as the two main characters try to take a good-faith look at a shared history in which they both have a personal stake. And INSURRECTO does it in a way that interrogates the ideas of “Whose story is this to tell?” and “What’s the ‘proper’ way to tell it?”

Structurally the book might confuse some. I’m not the world’s fastest novel-reader to begin with; it took me just over a week to get through this. Totally worth it, though. I don’t think I’ve ever described a piece of art as a “tour de force” before, but that’s exactly what INSURRECTO is.

It reminds me of the notes-like structure of a Mary Robison novel (expanded to full chapters, of course). I happened on a review somewhere (I lost the link) that speaks of a peculiar pattern with the chapter numbering. I’d missed it, but never went back to verify it. That’s okay. The thing that helped me stay centered despite the shifting casts of characters as remembering Armand Ianucci’s THE THICK OF IT and IN THE LOOP — a TV series and film where the same actors play different characters in a similar setting. I know, you’re probably thinking “WTF are you talking about?” Just read INSURRECTO.

#Weeknotes S02 E33

I don’t whine on Twitter about my writing life very often these days. But the teardown of even more US government institutions, Birtherism II: Is Birthright Citizenship Really a Thing, Though?, and fire tornadoes… well, I was wound up anyway.

My current relationship with my writer self really is like the one between the Eagles in 1979 recording THE LONG RUN album. So I was sort of pondering these words this weekend.

Well, we’re scared, but we ain’t shakin’
Kinda bent, but we ain’t breakin’
In the long run
–Eagles, “The Long Run”

Yes, kindness to oneself can work. At least today. And I’ll worry about tomorrow well… tomorrow.

Until then, though, Mazikeen has the right idea.

#Weeknotes S02 E32

It’s a small cut, scabbed over by the time I got out of bed (read: the theater of operations for this morning’s feline war games) after it happened and got to the bathroom to see if I needed to do anything about it. It’s certainly not the biggest or most painful scratch the smol furry children have given me. The sudden stampede across my head was more shocking. The mild anxiety after the fact that but for another inch, I’d have been the new Left Eye was more traumatic. No it’s not true trauma, and I don’t say that with some dumb-dumb dismissal of my own pain. But c’mon, I know there’s worse going on out there.

I’m taking all this in when this hits me…

Suffice it to say, I know how Asher feels…

Nothing for it though but catching my breath and hitting it again next week.

Quickie Review of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) S01 E08: “Point of Origin”

Okay, I’m way behind on these, given that Season 2 is out now! I’ve avoided spoilers and stuff so when I get around to picking in up on Blu-Ray, I’ll review just like I’m doing with Season 1 on here. Speaking of which…

We’re all immigrants in an intersectional space called… The Twilight Zone.

We’re at a point in time where the privileged are openly showing their asses in public — just the kind of folks that would’ve been a ripe target in the classic TZ era. Easy pickings for Jordan Peele, who I think has a little extra glint in his eyes as he gives the intro to this one. But we don’t just see the outward oppression by the privileged. We see its more insidious sides: the way the rules don’t apply to the privileged, feeling good about doing something illegal that you don’t feel should be, when you assume all your problems will go away as long as you play by those same rules. It’s a good life for the protagonist, which is why it’s such a scary thing for her to lose.

There are some pretty strong callbacks to classic episodes like “The Obsolete Man” and, if you look carefully and manage to spot it, to “Eye of the Beholder“. And if I’m not mistaken, a dialogue callback to “The After-Hours“. Here are some other takeaways…

  • “Matheson” charter school, get it?
  • Yay for the illustration of Asian collaboration in oppressive systems.
  • “It could expose us, and them”
  • Gotta keep the children innocent (in their privileged bubble).
  • That way the kids can concentrate on knowing how to use the technology better than you do.
  • And now we’re in the world of The Obsolete Man.
  • You know, I think there’s a certain suspension of disbelieve that producers bank on when you throw in the name “Twilight Zone.” It works sometimes… but not always.
  • It’s so good to see you again.” “You don’t remember who you are.” — just like “The After-Hours.”

The Jack Elam Score for “Point of Origin” (out of 5):

1: “And this lemon-sucker here…”
2: “Ain’t nobody been exonerated yet, that’s for sure!”
3: “Sharp boys, real sharp boys!”
4: “A regular Ray Bradbury!”

#Weeknotes S02 E31

It’s late, I’m tired, and not doing so great. And while I don’t have the urge to crawl into, say, a bottle of any kind, Mazikeen does illustrate my mood perfectly.

I’ve only got a few things on my mind this week.

4 out of 5 days this week, our internet was out so all of my remote work had to be crammed through the tether from my ThinkPad to my cell phone like the dad in A CHRISTMAS STORY with his screwdriver and his plumber’s helper. It was a pain in the ass and I do not recommend it. But it worked and it just brought to mind just how good I still have it in the face of [gestures wildly] all this.

Another year, another Worldcon, huh?

Just Google it because I, like many other BIPOC in SF/F/H just can’t even right now.

I have no idea how I stumbled onto this, but my ears have some new candy now…

Saw the first two episodes and now I’m hooked.

#Weeknotes S02 E30

There’s a theme this week, and it appears to be age.

Behold, the greatest Huey Lewis and The News video since “I Wanna New Drug,” just released the other day.

This was also the week I finally caught up on the third season of STRANGER THINGS. And the most horrifying thing about it to me had nothing to do with the plot, but with how many memories of life in 1985 that came back to me. You know, I’m the exact same age at those kids and I think I spend an inordinate amount of time imagining how much more f’ed up they’d be in 2020. It’s morbid, really and not very helpful. I mean, you’d at least think I’d try to write a story about it. Okay, there may be an outline somewhere.

Between the phage in the air and the brownshirts in the streets, it’s been another week of trying to get by, paying the bills the best one can, and hunkering down with loved ones and weapons. Asher here has the right idea, don’t you buddy?

We’ll take a nap in the afternoon
That’s just part of the fun
So much of youth is wasted on the young
Watch your tongue
–Huey Lewis and The News, “While We’re Young”

#Weeknotes S02 E29

You can do just about anything remotely in the time of coronavirus, even screaming about the horrors of the world into the Icelandic wilderness. And they don’t stop, do they? This week, it was moms getting gassed on the streets of Portland by secret police. Well I’ve said before, if this Gestapo shit really has come back, then I hope that a Nuremberg comes back with it.

It does feel a little like being a cat in a laundry basket, though.

That just about sums up my week, really. Aside from sneaking a peek at the new incarnation of CHARMED. I’m probably not going to do a review on it, but I can pretty much say on the pro side, it’s as good as the old show. On the con side… it’s as good as the old show.

Anyway, I’ve decided this is the mental vibe I’m reaching for this next week. I’m not optimistic, but you need to have goals.

Music, help me through this
–Benny Sings, “Music”

#Weeknotes S02 E28

In between the horror of skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, racists being racists particularly against international graduate students this week, and sketchily pardoned political operatives in my social media feeds, it’s been noted that this is the weekend Readercon would be taking place. It’s been at least 5 or 6 years since I made it out there last. Not on purpose; just the way life has worked out. I’ve either had work stuff going on, or my schedule and finances made it easier to go to 4th Street Fantasy. So, why am I so wistful? Besides being one of the first cons I ever attended regularly, choosing not to go always feels different than when you don’t have a choice, right?

Felt the same about Dragon*Con, too, but at least it’s going virtual like a lot of other cons have this year.

In the meantime though, we’re all just muddling through as best we can especially if you’re not the kind of a-hole who’ll insist on going to Disney World like it ain’t no thing. Hard to blame them if Disney’s playing along, though.

Actually I take that back. It’s very easy for me to blame people regardless of what Disney is doing.

I, on the other hand, have only left the house this week to resume the process of getting a crown for my teefs and get batteries for the CO detectors. Because, adulting.

So, what’ve I been up to besides the dayjob?


I actually did follow along and produce a little ‘zine, though like I said, it’ll never see the light of day. Now, I just need to figure out how I’m going to put this knowledge to use. This also reminds me that I need to pull up Malaka Gharib’s I WAS THEIR AMERICAN DREAM from the depths of my TBR queue.

I’ve read and binge-watched some things; even wrote about it a bit. I really have to do more reviews. I still have the last two episodes of the first season of Jordan Peele’s TWILIGHT ZONE to do. It’s been a slog, trying to rebuild a sense of… well… life and art and the appreciation thereof during this time of coronvavirus. Like an apartment complex rebuilding after a fire.

Anyway, stay safe, wear masks, don’t go out there unless you have to. And if you’re going to ignore all that, at least don’t get filmed coughing on people and acting a fool, and then complain about the social consequences. Just don’t forget, I love you, wall!