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Racing Thoughts Of A Bipolar Writer No. 5: Lessons From A Writing Hiatus

hiatus-imageI have made up excuses to myself for my writing hiatus far too long and far too many times, that it is no longer justifiably congruent to my current physical, emotional, and mental condition, which, if I am being honest, are complete pictures of good health as of late. I should have started blogging and writing last May, or at the very latest, the last week of the month of May. But I admit, and quite regrettably so, that procrastination and laziness overpowered me.

And just like that, with a week-long (or has it been a month?) difference to my blogging backlog, here I am trying to absolve myself of my proclivity to idleness and self-imposed writing hiatuses.

However, allow me to give you a brief summary —  a summary that I hope would serve to explain my recent lack of posts for the past months of April and May, but by no means be misconstrued to suggest that I be vindicated for my recent long writing hiatus — of the latest medical misfortunes in my life these past four months, which have, consequently, rendered me incapacitated to cogitate with the usual fervor and accompanying racing thoughts of a manic bipolar person. And to write with the potent gusto and lusty temperament of, ahem, a creative master.

Here are the following reasons for my writing hiatus:

Firstly, during my recent month-long holiday in Europe this year, I had planned on starting my first novel and blogging regularly (at least once a week) in Switzerland, where I would be staying with a couple of friends. It was February, arguably the coldest month of the entire year. The cold was much too cold, and despite the best efforts of the heater, the weather made it less and less conducive to write. Consequently, I was bedridden for more than a week after having caught the flu, after a trip to the morbidly cold yet lovely streets of Salzburg.

Still, Europe, during wintertime, is still as charming and as quaint as I had hoped it would be. I spent half my time visiting the beautiful and historic cities of Rome, Salzburg, Schaffhausen, Zurich, Munich, and other lesser known cities with unpronounceable names of Gaelic and Nordic origins; the other half spent on catching the flu, being in bed, watching films on the Internet, drinking with friends and clubbing, and commuting by car or by train to and from our points of destination and origin.

I promised myself I would finish at least one blog post before I get back home to the Philippines, but I ended up writing nothing at all. My friend Marie told me to extend my stay until the sunny March and April months. I thought it was a good idea, because it would give me a chance to acclimatize and possibly regulate my body’s European-time-synchronized circadian rhythm during the blossoming and gayer months of summer in Zurich. Also, I might be able to bring my hands out of its black caves — the leather gloves. But it was not meant to be. A family emergency beckoned me back home, which, incidentally, is my second reason for my lack of posts.

Secondly, when my father, Justice Undersecretary Francisco F. Baraan III, found blood in his stool, I had to cut my European holidays shorter than planned.  After a battery of tests, the doctor found polyps (a group of malignant tumors) in his colon, and had to undergo immediate surgery. I did not want to miss the operation, so I booked the earliest flight back home.

Thankfully, the doctors had surgically removed, with 100% success, all the visible tumors from my father’s colon. However, the biopsy results revealed that his cancer was stage 2B, a more advanced stage than the stage the doctors initially suspected and hoped for, stage 2A, a stage that does not necessarily require the patient to go through chemotherapy anymore because the risks of the disease recurring within the five-year survival period (if the patient is cured, he can live without these time parameters) are far less likely than in the stages 2B and up, where the cancer cells are more aggressive and could metastasize into other parts of the body, and remain invisible and undetected to the naked eye.

At this juncture, my father has already gone through two chemotherapy sessions, and will undergo ten more sessions for the next five months. I ask that you please include him in your prayers, too.

Thirdly, somewhere between the time my father was recuperating from his surgery in his spacious suite in Makati Medical Center, I was, unbeknownst to him and Mother, also lying in a hospital bed in a lesser room (I can’t afford a suite) right across the hall of suites where my father was. The reason: I had to go through immediate microsurgery for my right index finger.

The story: I was intoxicated and dived into an argument with my brother, Dr. Deo, and my sister, Cielo, over something I could not remember, try hard as I may. It’s not really something I would like to remember, anyway.  All I could remember was the feeling of anger building up inside me. And due to this anger that spread fast like the malignant tumors found in my father’s colon, I hit a glass with my right hand with a Hulkian force that left the entire pulp and fat of my right index finger flying off and detached, which left my finger guzzing out hemophiliac liters of blood, and leaving the nail bed looking like a decapitated head.

I had to undergo two expensive and grueling surgeries weeks apart from each other for just one index finger, which ended up giving me three conspicuous scars in my right hand due to my surgical wounds, and I also had to undergo two weeks of physical rehab after the doctors removed the bandages and the arm sling from my hand and arm which, as a result, did not help in making me gain back my passion for writing.

Fourthly and lastly, eventually (of course), my parents found out about what happened, and all is forgiven. However, the incident left me unable to work and perform fully my duties as CEO of our family’s business. It had also left me unable to write and blog, and practically do anything I used to enjoy using my right hand, the hand which I rely on for almost everything. It is quite easy, I imagine, to lose one’s momentum and drive for writing and blogging because of a long writing hiatus, especially after the circumstances I had mentioned.

In my case, I did lose my momentum due to a series of events that led me spiraling down onto a place of complacent procrastination and unproductive idleness. It even dried up my drive at one point. In fact, until recently, I have been battling the residual effects of my recent creative writing break: guilt over having spent too much money (an inordinately obscene sum for just one lilliputian index finger), time, energy, and effort on trivial and frivolous pursuits; self-doubt as to my abilities, ideas, and thought processes; and feelings of uselessness.

Though I know that, in retrospect, I could have (during the time I could not make use of my hand for writing and working) used my time doing something productive by, say, buying a Dictaphone and recording my experiences for my as yet unfinished memoirs and transcribing them later onto paper for future references, let it be known that there really is no point of having regrets.

A writing hiatus, I realize, whether self-imposed, brought on by personal circumstances, or caused by sheer lack of motivation for the time being, can actually be more good than bad, and should not be a cause for misery and regret. The way I figure it, a writing hiatus should also serve as a time for relaxation, a time for rejuvenation, and even a time for reflection on things past, present, and future. It could also just as well be used as a mental vacation.

First lesson I have learned from my recent writing hiatus is that when one really is a serious writer, one will really miss with utmost fervency the sense of fulfillment one gets from the act of writing itself.

The void created by a writing hiatus can only be filled by supplanting it with literary activity. My recent writing hiatus created a writing hunger in me that could only be quenched by the act of writing, and not just writing, but by ferocious writing. So I did. I recently started writing my first novel, and it was liberating. It’s as if a higher creative intellect that had been suppressed for a long time suddenly found a way to possess me yet again . It also brought out this innate compulsion inside me to chronicle everything, to make sense of things, to creatively purge my feelings and thoughts, to keep a record of important details.

Second lesson I have learned is this: whether one writes for personal pleasure or for publishing posterity, one thing remains constant — writers are natural custodians of memory.

It is the pecking order of things in the grand scheme of literature. Writers write in order to remember — to immortalize, to memorialize, and to never forget. If one wishes to be a serious writer, one has to make a habit of diarizing and journalizing anything and everything — life’s series of ups and downs. For it is precisely these ups and downs that make life more interesting, and that need to be written and told.

After you come out of a writing hiatus, it would behoove you to collect your thoughts and write down everything you have felt, experienced, and learned during the hiatus. You will thank yourself that you did that once you start writing your memoirs.

You see, when I really think about it, a writing hiatus is, essentially, neither good nor bad. It is what it is depending on what we make of it. But I suggest we choose to see a writing hiatus from a healthy standpoint: that it brings more good than bad; that it effectually makes one miss writing with a voracious appetite; that it makes one want to seek more ways of coming up with more original (or less derivative) work; that it gives one more stories to tell; and that it reawakens one’s prolific creativity with sudden bursts of eureka-esque epiphanies.

Third and last lesson I have learned from my writing hiatus is this: in life, there should be no such thing as regrets, only blessings and blessings in disguise.

It would not do one any good in dwelling over the past, beating oneself black and blue, and mentally kicking oneself over things one can no longer change. What has been said and done; what has happened before should remain in the past — as everything in the past should.

Because, ultimately, all we can do is to try and learn as much as we can from these little breaks plus all the things that coincide with it. To turn the negative experiences into positive motivators, and hopefully, be the better for it.

Judging A Book Without A Cover: The Top 3 Sites To Get Free Books And Ebooks From The Biggest Publishers And Authors

The idea of being a “professional reader” titillates me. What dilettante reader or writer, novice literary blogger, or amateur book reviewer wouldn’t be titillated by the idea of it? For someone so passionate about books and reading, I was ecstatic after learning over a few months ago that there were sites that gave away free advanced reading copies of soon to be released books and e-books by the biggest publishers and authors in the world.

While there are sites that give away free ebooks and PDF documents like Free-eBooks.netFreeBookSpotPlanet PDF (one of my favorite sites for downloading the classics; just use your Kindle device and download your Dostoyevsky, Dickens, or Proust to your blessed, little, eager heart’s delight!), and Project Gutenberg — and these are all great sites from which you can download ebooks and books in different formats — this post is not about the average free book sites where one could just download books immediately, like what the rest of the highly cerebral, humanoid, greedy, book-hoarding species do (including myself, admittedly — the greedy, book-hoarding part, I mean).

No. This post is about the Top Three sites from which the serious book/literary blogger can get his greedy, book-hoarding hands on the latest, and most of the time, unpublished, yet to be released books from the small publishers and middlingly successful, mostly underrated, authors to the big publishers and bestselling, sometimes overrated, authors. Of course, this goes without saying that there is a catch: you have to have at least a decent blog, and at least a respectable amount of followers and blog posts. Since you’re reading this WordPress blog, I’ll assume that you have “just another WordPress (or any other) blog,” too.

APPLICATION PROCESS AND PROFESSIONAL COURTESY

1. You have to fill out an online form (safe to say, the general procedure these days) wherein you will be asked to talk about yourself and write down the link to your blog with a verification through your email (in order to keep those sneaky, scheming, little book and e-book vultures at bay).

2. Know how to use the Internet and navigate your way into the website, request for the books you’d like to read and have by choosing either “blogger” or “reviewer” from the list of accepted professions, and wait for the confirmation, or in most cases (from the bigwigs), the declination.

3. Have one of the major e-readers available today: Kindle readers, Sony readers, Nook, etc. If you don’t have an e-reader, in which case one is disposed to ask: “What kind of a self-respecting book blogger doesn’t have an e-reader these days?”, you can still download the e-books through Adobe Digital Editions in your computer.

4. Try your best to read the books you requested, and then write an honest review on your blog. The publishers and authors who approve your request do not expect you to write a good review just because you got the book for free. In fact, if you wish not to review their book for some reason, just have the courtesy to explain to them why you can’t read the book or why you can’t write a review. They leave their publicity team’s email addresses so you can contact them should you wish to interview the author; to inform them that you have already posted a review; or that you have declined to review their book.

5. Don’t forget to mention that you received the books for free because I think I read somewhere before that when one receives a free product and chooses to review it, one has to mention it in one’s review.

THE TOP THREE 

1. Blogging For Books  by WalterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group

Blogging_For_Books_2501

For all you Christian bloggers out there, here’s a site that is just what you need. The WalterBrook Publishing Group is a Christian publishing group and an evangelical division of the largest publisher in the world, Random House, Inc.. Blogging for Books is the website specifically tailored for Christian, Bible-thumping, Jesus-loving bloggers, no pun intended, who would like to request a book and review them.

Unlike the two next sites included in this post, Blogging for Books is the only site among the these Top  Three that offers printed versions of the copy requested by the blogger, provided the blogger gets a minimum review ranking of 25 for their reviews by the readers (here’s for more details), and that the blogger is from the United States. Bloggers from outside the US will only get an e-book version of the book requested.

Also, unlike the next two sites, Blogging for Books is the only one among the three that gives away only one book at a time. The other two sites approve multiple requests at a time. It is also the only site that requires you to have an account with another site, Edelweiss, which also happens to be among the Top Three sites I am endorsing here. Currently, I have been auto-approved by Blogging for Books for five titles from which I can choose one for review. I still have yet to pick one.

2. Edelweiss

Edelweiss Books

Edelweiss is a site that offers a wide range of free titles from small to large publishers. These titles only come in advanced (e-book) reading copies, though, and some of the copies that you will receive will be the unedited, uncorrected versions, which you could compare against the finished product once it is published. Some titles, just like Blogging for Books and NetGalley, which is the last site I shall mention here, have already been pre-approved by publishers for bloggers who have passed their qualifications.

The big difference, though, between Edelweiss and NetGalley and Blogging for Books is that Edelweiss is the only site among the Top Three that actually offers Digital Advanced Audio Copies. I didn’t know about digital advanced audio copies until I found this site. It makes complete sense, though. There are audiobooks out there, so why not have advanced audio copies of those, right? So, if you’re one of those who love to listen to audiobooks, albeit unedited, you just might find the titles that suit your taste here on Edelweiss. Two of the titles I have been approved are digital audio copies, 24 of which are advanced reading copies.

3. NetGalley

Print

Among the Top Three, NetGalley is my favorite site because of it’s easy-to-use, simple, and navigable website, not to mention the thousands of titles from the largest university and commercial presses and New York Times bestselling authors who have signed up with it, compared with the slightly less number of titles from Blogging for Books and Edelweiss. Currently, I have 360 books approved from the publishers of this site. I know that’s an obscene amount of ebooks to review, and even more obscene amount of books to have been requested by a single individual, but in my defense, I shall try to read and review them all within 3 years (excuses, excuses). On a lighter note, I’d like to proudly point out that the largest university press in the world, THE Oxford UniversityPress, has approved some of my requests. Well, it may have declined most of my requests, but at least it has approved at least a couple of them, and that makes my day everytime I think about it. These English gents from Oxford (including those from Random House) are just a bit wee hard hard to please, but when they approve you, you’d definitely feel validated and feel like a rock star blogger — makes you kind of forget all the rejection letters you got combined (including the kind of rejection you got from the girl or guy who dumped you, or THE ONE who jilted you at the altar).

READING AND REVIEW SYSTEM AND ADVANCED APOLOGIES

I have already made a list of the ebooks I shall read first among the ones that I received from NetGalley and Edelweiss by following a simple system: those ebooks whose advanced reading copies and final versions that came with the real ebook/printed book covers with them will be the ones I shall read and review first. The ones with the unedited versions without their proper book covers (and just don’t look good at all in my Kindle next to the other books with the colorful, yet to be finalized, book covers) will be read and reviewed last.

Unfortunately, therefore, some of the titles might not even make it to my to-read list if the advanced reading copies are just too dreadfully edited or formatted for reading; and I’m telling you, there are some of those I received whose formatting just seem to have been whipped up overnight, and not, at the very least, even second-rate, second draft-material at all. Still, lest I be painted a book-whoring ingrate, I’d like to say that I am happy to have received those books and that I truly appreciate them. Maybe the least I can do for these books I won’t review is to mention them in my upcoming posts as a series called “The Books I Won’t Be Able To Review, or in a series of posts called something like “How Can I Judge A Book Without A Cover?” and then include a brief synopsis about them. Win-win, yes?

You see, if I were still an amateur reader, I would consider reading dreadfully edited or formatted advanced reading copies first. Alas, I am what NetGalley refers to as a “professional reader” now, and with that comes the discriminating taste, eagle eyes, and the proud sensibilities of a professional book reviewer and critic, albeit a slightly amateurish one. I may not be as good a “professional reader and reviewer” as critics and authors John Updike and James Wood are, but I do take those hats seriously and I expect at the very least a readable and presentable advanced reading copies (ARC).

If I am to be a better professional reader and reviewer, which I intend to be, I should be able to choose which books to read, review, and recommend; and with the Top Three sites above, despite the failings of its publishers to give away well-formatted and well-edited advanced reading copies sometimes, I know I might, over the long haul, be able to improve my reading habits, sharpen my critical abilities, and develop my rather wide range of interests and extreme personal tastes in literature through their wonderful books (that I am truly thankful for).

It is thus my fervent, fervent wish that whoever is reading this will be able to do the things I hope to accomplish and have already accomplished through these three great sites, too.

7 Fun Facts About Me + My Nomination For Very Inspiring Blogger Award Makes Me Keep At It

very-inspiring-blogger-award11 (1)After not having blogged for over a month due to my right hand injury (I’m better now, thank you), and my father’s recent colon cancer operation (he’s better now, too, thank God), I was happy to find out that Ms. Lee Paige of Life Accordinglee, a fellow blogger and aspiring author, nominated me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. If I could nominate her back for this award, I would. But one of the unwritten rules, I believe, of this award is that it does not allow one to nominate the one who nominated you.

Still, after having been on a blogging and writing hiatus for over a month, I am quite honored and flattered to have been nominated by someone as inspiring and as serious a blogger and writer as Ms. Paige. Just when I thought I was about to lose my blogging and writing momentum after a series of unfortunate writing setbacks — major of which were my dad’s diagnosis with stage 2B colon cancer and my right hand freak accident injury — the latter having almost extinguished my passion for writing altogether (for fear I might not be able to write properly again because I am unfortunately just right-handed, not ambidextrous), I receive this recognition and honor.

The slogan-theme of the award is “Keeping The Blogosphere A Beautiful Place.” This nomination, to me, is, I would like to think, validation enough that I am somehow doing something write, er, right, with my life and with this blog. When I started The Bibliophile Chronicles, all I wanted was a place for me to share my thoughts on literature, authors, books, and to share some of the happenings in my life in relation to my passion for reading and writing. But if fellow bloggers and writers such as Ms. Paige thinks that I am also keeping the blogosphere a beautiful place, then that is indeed a wonderful and unexpected bonus and accolade. So, with all my heart, thank you, Ms. Paige, for the nomination.

NOMINATION MECHANICS

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award comes with a few rules. Here they are:

  • Display the Award Certificate on your website.
  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented you with the award.
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you have linked them in the post.
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

7 THINGS ABOUT MYSELF I MAY HAVE FAILED TO MENTION BEFORE

1. I think I may have been an English lord in my past life. That said, I am a royalist and an Anglophile. And after having met a royal Muslim princess and a Filipina socialite who became an English lady after marrying an English lord, I am all the more convinced now not only of my English heritage, but of my being an English lord trapped in a bipolar Filipino man‘s body. Ah, the idea of addressing someone as Your Royal Highness and Lady Minda or being addressed as Lord Francis by someone else if just utterly delicious; it’s like eating Christmas!

2. I have been sporting a posh British accent whenever I talk to Europeans or any British person since I was in high school. Blame it on BBC and my English heritage. I have been asked by all British and European people I have met why I have a posh, aristocratic, upper class British accent, and I just tell them with my clipped, nasal, and patrician voice that I was born in London and have lived with my grandmother Her Majesty The Queen since Day 1, jokingly, of course.

3. I am obsessive-compulsive. I write, read, and think obsessively and compulsively every minute of everyday that I honestly don’t know what to focus on and do first most of the time. This is the reason why I always bring with me everywhere I go a pen, a paper, books, my journal, and my fleeting and racing thoughts. Sometimes I wonder how I am still sane all these years. Moreover, I wonder why the people around me, especially my staff, family, and friends, still remain sane after all the craziness they have to up with because of my genius, or is it delusions? Okay, genius it is.

4. I love making up new words. Who says Webster is the only guy who can come up with new vocab? In my previous posts and in a chapter of my as yet unpublished memoirs and novel, I came up with words such as historize, diarize, teachified, francified, and bipolarize, and have used them quite successfully, if I may so myself. I am waiting for the day people will refer to me as the literary genius who coined such beautiful words. You’ll have to buy copies of my memoirs and novel to learn more new words I made up myself.

5. When I was in Europe on a vacation two months ago for over three weeks, I was hoping I could start writing short stories to anthologize in a book. Alas, I ended up with nothing. I caught the flu when I was in Salzburg, Austria because instead of bundling up properly and wearing something appropriate and wise for a minus five-degree Celsius climate, I thought I would Superman it up by just wearing a thin blue jacket as thin and as uncomfortable as the leotards of Superman himself when I was out riding a horse-driven carriage for a sightseeing trip. Turns out I didn’t have any healing superpowers, after all; my only superpowers are delusions of grandeur and stupidity.

6. I see everything from a writer’s perspective since I started blogging. Everytime something, anything happens — good or bad — I always see something in it that inspires me to write about. Even after having told myself that I might not be able to write anymore because of my bloody, inconvenient right hand injury, at the back of my mind I was still thinking that I could write about this after I get better or after it still doesn’t get any better. When you start writing, you begin to see every experience as an inspiration for writing, you see every minute detail as a possible theme or topic, and you see everything with a writer’s hope for a better future or a writer’s despair for a bleak future.

7. I write because I don’t want to forget. My ambition of being a memoirist and being a damn good novelist started from being a diarist. At the end of each day, I write in my different notebooks and journals, including this iPhone application called One Day, all my thoughts, feelings, opinions, fears, and dreams because I don’t want to forget anything. I didn’t say I want to remember everything because, you see, being bipolar and obsessive-compulsive, I tend to forget most things. It’s not early senility, just memory loss caused by manic, racing thoughts. With all the things running through my mind every millisecond, and with all the things that compete to take up space in my ever-working brain and imagination, it is easy for me to get distracted. I can’t afford to forget those surges of inspiration and brilliance, because in my world, genius, creativity, and delusions are all one and the same.

15 BLOGGERS WHO INSPIRE AND KEEP THE BLOGOSPHERE A BEAUTIFUL PLACE

1. Mr. Charles Edward Yallowitz of Legends of Windemere

2. Ms. Sandy Sue of A Mind Divided

3. Ms. Angelic of Why I Can’t Stop Reading

4. Ms. Melinda of The Book Musings

5. Mr. Tony Roberts of A Way With Words

6. Ms. Rowena of Les Reveries De Rowena

7. Anonymous of The Child, Animal, Poet, And Saint

8. Ms. Sarah Cradit of And Then There Was Sarah

9. Anonymous of Cross(stitch) Your Heart

10. Mr. Meyer Lane of Meyer Lane’s Short Attention Span Press

11. Anonymous of writeonthebeach

12. Mr. Michael Pignatella of Portable Magic

13. Ms. Lisa Orchard of Lisa Orchard

14. Mr. Seumas Gallacher of Seumas Gallacher

15. Mr. Billy Ray Chitwood of thefinalcurtain1

Happiness And The Endless List Of The Wonderful Effects Of Blogging

463406_3360068930269_2066252411_oI did it again.

I published this article about the resignation of the Pope only to find myself redrafting and re-editing almost the entire last paragraphs. I published it, unpublished it, and then published it again. After reading the entire post before the redraft, I felt there was something wrong with it. Some of that oomph was missing. There was something in the last paragraphs that seemed incoherent and that just didn’t seamlessly connect and flow with the previous paragraphs, even the entire text. And then, I saw it.

I wish I had saved a copy of it so I can show here the difference between the first edition and the latest edition which is the one I just re-published now. But I had already deleted it. In the previous paragraphs, I was talking about being a convenient Catholic, and quoted an author’s views about being one, from an article in his newspaper column. After that, I went about discussing the Pope Benedict XVI’s health and age, but failed to make a connection between the Pontiff’s health and my being a convenient Catholic.

I didn’t succeed in connecting the three intended themes of the article which were, namely: the Pope’s resignation, his health, and my being a convenient Catholic. Now, with the latest edition, I think I succeeded in doing just that. Well, at least I hope did. After 21 blog posts, one would like to think that one gets better at writing and editing.

With blogging, I get to do, albeit in a small way, what I’ve always wanted to be (among other ambitions):  writer and editor. I have always had this dream of becoming an owner and editor of a publishing empire,  and of writing a good novel, too. And blogging has been tremendously instrumental in making me want even more to become an Editor-in-Chief of reputable magazines like the Paris Review, and publishing houses like Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

And of course, to become a damn good novelist.

Because of blogging, I began to be more objective when it comes to my own writing. I started to see my writing from another writer’s and reader’s perspective. And it made me ask five important questions that I think became my own formula for discerning good writing from bad writing — especially of my own. Being critical of one’s own work makes it easier to be truly objective. And if I am to become a damn good novelist someday, I’d better start by being hard on myself because friends and family may say you’re good even if you wrote them the most unimaginative article in the world.

So with the unreliability of objectivity from others, I came up with my formulaic good-from-bad-writing discernment questions. They are as follows:

1. “Is this idea brilliant or relevant enough to inspire, educate, and entertain or terribly amorphous and irrelevant?”

2. “Is this verbosity really necessary or just an exercise of monstrous self-indulgence?

3. “Is this a reflection of a writer writing from the heart or or a reflection of a writer just trying to impress?”

4. “Is this good enough to make others think it is serious writing or bad enough to be marked down as amateurish?”

5. “Is this a catharsis of pent-up creative energy and artistry or just a feeble attempt at self-expression?

I came up with these questions because the blogging process is for the most part a thinking process, too — a creative one at that. Indeed, blogging forces you to become a better writer and editor. But also it makes you a better thinker and questioner — a very objective thinker and questioner.

Good writing, I believe, is something that should reflect your passions and personality. With blogging, I hope to do just that. To write something that reflects my passions and, in my case, multiple personalities.

Kurt Vonnegut, the author, says that when you write about something that you love, familiar with, and passionate about, it will come across as something that comes from the heart. And my heart I give completely to everything I write. (I hope that’s what comes across in all my blog posts). This is exactly why I think most blog posts by serious bloggers are, in essence, effective and persuasive because the people who write them are those who truly believe in what they’re saying. And they’re sharing things that are really going to be of use to others.

But of course, the downside to blogging is that sometimes one can be a little too narcissistic and whiny, if left unchecked. Nowadays, it’s easy to believe or to delude oneself into thinking that we are the center of the universe because Internet has made a small global village of  the world that it’s practically easy to be an Internet sensation now. But there’s nothing more unattractive than self-indulgent and narcissistic writers.

Trust me, I’ve gone down that road before, and quite ironically, they were not my proudest moments, and it didn’t produce the best writing, too. It is almost always is a recipe for bad writing because it doesn’t do anything except to shamelessly promote and glorify oneself. Narcissistic writing is an act of tomfoolery that should not be allowed further if one wishes to gain a steady influx of readership.

Like I said in a previous post, there’s only so much about oneself that one can talk about. Blogging is a great avenue to talk about topics that interest you, and should make you search your mind and unleash that untapped imagination. The possibilities are practically endless.

There are so many things out there you can talk about that doesn’t always have to be about you and what you bought yesterday at the grocery store, or about how you have a fabulous pimple right at the tip of your nose, or that you have mood swings all the time because of your bipolar disorder. People don’t want to hear about your endless shopping lists, or your latest pimple alert, or your temper tantrums and how you almost knocked someone out just because you are deliciously bipolar like me.

No. What people would rather hear you talk about is how one of your shopping lists can help remove the stain of their soiled shirts. Or how you tried out this new topical ointment that could help that cute pimple at the tip of your nose go away. (Oh, and don’t forget to strike a pose, take a picture of your top model pimple look and show the after photo, too, of your new pimple-less face). And people would rather have you share how your new medications helped stabilize your Britney Spears mood swings, and made you stop believing that you’re Jesus H. Christ the Superstar.

The key is to connect with the readers. That’s what blogging or any form of writing is all about. Blogging, I believe, if I may say so myself, brings out the best in me. It forces me to be a better writer and editor. It makes me talk less about my numerous, prodigious talents and  my unrivaled genius. And yes, it makes me a better thinker. But more important than all of these combined, what blogging does is it makes me become a better sharer, dreamer, and imaginer. And it gives me such a horrible sense of humor, too. At least now I know, thanks to blogging, that comedy is not for me. Still, blogging makes me happy — and terribly, terribly so.

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Book Review No. 5: The Filthy Rich Handbook (How The Other .0001% Lives) by Christopher Tennant

Filthy HandbookThe Filthy Rich Handbook By Christopher Tennant (247 pages Workman Publishing: $11.95)

I ordered this book from Amazon years ago because the title intrigued me. I have always had this dream of becoming a billionaire someday through our family’s various businesses. Obviously, this is one delusion of grandeur I refuse to shake off. Despite my family’s considerable fortune, I still have a lot of things I wish to acquire: a castle in Ireland, a 740 Park Avenue apartment, a fleet of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Maybachs, a dozen Aston Martins, a Boeing 747, a 250-foot megayacht, an army of English butlers and majordomos to run various summer cottages in Newport, Paris and Palm Beach, a European aristocratic title, and the friendship of Serene Highnesses and of the British Royal Family.

But instead, for now, I have to make do with what I have. Don’t get me wrong. I am really happy and content with what I have. The things I want are different from the things that I need, and I have way more than what I need. But sometimes you just can’t help but feel a little  envious when you see someone have something you still can’t afford to buy at the moment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you can afford to buy and sell someone like Kate Upton many times over and not even bat an eyelash?

Well, unless you are a billionaire or mega-multihundred millionaire, having a net worth below the neighborhood of $10, 000, 000 still won’t buy you the luxuries only the richest of the rich can afford — and Kate Upton. Or Chris Evans. These days, who knows what someone prefers.

Whether you’re looking for inspiration for that rich guy you wish to include as one of the characters in your novel, or doing some research about how the 1% of the richest 1% people live, or an arriviste who wants to be accepted by the establishment of the botoxed High Society and Ruling Classes, or in need of a crash course on how the ultra-rich talk the talk and walk the walk, or a social anthropologist or a social psychologist taking notes and chronicling how lazy leisure class lives, or just truly enjoy reading stuff about the ultra-rich, this reference book by Tennant has it all covered.

Here you’ll read about the Old Guard, the parvenus, Brahmans, the upstarts,  and the things they have in common, the fabulous places they summer at, the clubs they belong to, the servants who wait on them, the multimillion dollar palatial residences they live in, the parties they give and attend, and anything and everything about the oh so filthy rich.

Tennant shows chapter by chapter things like “Old Money [Country] Clubs” and “New Money [Country] Clubs,” which tycoon paid millions to which superstar singer for his daughter’s party, and which friends to avoid and be proud of. Funnily, He says Princess Diana is one of those people everyone should want to be friends with (sadly, this isn’t possible anymore), and that Imelda Marcos, the infamous former First Lady and wife of the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is one of those people everyone should never admit to having been friends with (this is still possible). I found the latter so hilarious, yet a little offended, too, because the Marcoses are related to one of my dearest friends, Mary Anne Vargas, a Manila socialite and philanthropist who loves the charismatic and regal former First Lady.

Mary Anne regaled me many times with anecdotes of the former First Lady’s eccentricities and charms. One time she said Mrs. Marcos was singing endlessly during one of her birthday parties in a yacht until the wee hours of the morning. She said everyone were already getting sleepy and wanted to go home, but everybody didn’t have the heart to tell Mrs. Marcos that they wanted to go home. Now, I wonder what Mary Anne will say about this when she finds out her cousin Imelda was mentioned in this book as a shoe fetishist who should be blackballed from the charity and social circuits. The Heiress

In this book, I think you will also find, like I did, the caricatures of the filthy rich people so charming and funny, along with pictures of random people where he illustrates what kind of clothes the filthy rich wear and what gadgets and different kinds of looks they sport. What also impressed upon me was his emphasis on the difference between the new rich and the old rich — the arrivistes and the blue bloods. I think this would generally help the uninitiated determine which ones are new and and which ones are old. One tip: the accent and how they pronounce Gstaad and the Carribean. Trust me, in every country, especially here in the Philippines, it’s easy to spot the parvenus from the pedigreed.

I hate talking about money and the describing wealth as it is crass and tacky to do that, but since this book is all about money and wealth, perhaps you’d be kind enough to make this an exception. Let me give you an example of the difference between the parvenu and the pedigreed. Well, I’d like to think of myself as a man of impeccable pedigree. Or maybe this is another of my delusions of grandeur I refuse to shake off, too.

One time a friend thought it funny to point out how one of our new rich friends was richer than me. To which I said jokingly with my quasi-British accent, “He may have the brass, but I have the class. You can never buy breeding and impeccable taste. He can hire someone to make it look like he has taste, but he can never acquire the breeding that only well-born people like me are born with. Unless he marries into our family, he can never have my name or my family’s illustrious background. He can show the world how rich he is with absurd and vulgar displays of wealth, whereas I have got nothing to prove.”

He laughed and replied, “Touche. Sometimes you can be such a snob.”

Part-satire, part-parody, and all the way true-to-life, Tennant’s well-researched book is one of those I would be happy to recommend to everybody even for just a good laugh. It’s got everything you need, and a veritable guide to anything and everything filthy rich. If you’re filthy rich enough, or with a stroke of luck you’ll strike it rich, or just want to know how and where to spend your money, or just curious as to how Bill Gates and the rest of the Forbes 400 Richest live, Tennant’s The Filthy Rich Handbook is all the book you’ll ever need. This is one mean Rolodex of watering holes, country clubs, vacation spots,  tag prices for celebrity entertainers, and big bad toys that you should definitely have!

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Racing Thoughts Of A (Catholic) Bipolar Writer No. 3: On Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation and Convenient Catholics

VATICAN POPELET US PRAY FOR THE POPE AND HIS SUCCESSOR

I shall be in Italy next week (I hope). I’m just waiting for the issuance of my Schengen visa so I can jump-start my European trip starting with Rome. I have already planned my European trip with my friend Raquel since the last half of January. I am quite excited to see the major cities in Europe with my European friends, and to use this little book called The Civilized Shopper’s Guide To Rome by Pamela Keech & Margaret A. Brucia as my tour guide to all the enchanting flea markets, bookstores and art galleries, palazzos, piazzas and pizzerias.

But I think, undoubtedly, the highlight of my European trip would be at the Vatican, where the Pope is expected to resign as the ecclesiastical monarch of the Catholic Church at 85, and after eight years of public service. While I was shocked to hear the news, I also think it is the best decision for him, health-wise. I may not be as devout as my pious Catholic mother or my Catholic priest uncle, but I highly respect the papacy and the Pope himself.

It has been said that the last time a pope resigned from the papacy was 600 years ago. Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415 because three rival popes were chosen by different religious factions, and had to eventually choose a successor that everybody would recognize. It took two years since the resignation of Pope Gregory XII for the Conclave to elect his successor, Martin V. In Pope Benedict XVI’s case, though, he shall be resigning due to health reasons and age, not because of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and leadership rivalry. 

GIVE THE POPE A BREAK

His Holiness elected to resign by the end of February not because he doesn’t want to perform his functions as leader of one billion Catholics, but because he recognized the fact that he can no longer perform his functions as leader of one billion Catholics effectively. An exemplary display of strength of character and humility, indeed.

That said, I still can’t help but point out, too, that the tenure of the Pope has been riddled with scandals of sexual abuse by some of the clergy, and some have even criticized him for not having solved these issues properly. Some say the Church was covering up these anomalies, and somehow caused the decline in number of the faithful and devout Catholics, and of young men choosing to be ordained into the Catholic priesthood, during his eight-year rule.

But Of course, if you are a septuagenarian going octogenarian, solving all these issues in the Holy See can take its toll on your health. Let’s cut the old man some slack, shall we? Let us just pray for the health of His Holiness, and pray, too, that the next pope would be young enough to perform the functions required of the leader of the Catholic nation, but old and wise enough to address the moral and social issues of today.

PRESCRIPTION FOR THESE MODERN TIMES

These modern issues of our modern times need to be seen from a modern man’s perspective, not from an archaic set of belief systems by people who were living in archaic times 2,000 years before. Then again, how could they have known that things were going to change this drastically, back then? It is, therefore, the duty of the Catholic Church and all major faiths to initiate some changes of views towards some modern issues like divorce, homosexuality, even abortion. Continuing with this following-the-Word-of-God-Bible-to-the-letter brouhaha would just confuse and enrage different kinds of people, and with, I fear, deleterious effects.

The Catholic Church keeping mum and turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the sexual abuses and corruption of their own clergy while going on a high and mighty Bible-thumping about (their own version) morality and Christian virtues would just be seen as hypocritical, and would do it no good. The Bible, is to some level, also just a book about the history of the ancient times. With all the conflicting information and views out there today regarding some social and moral issues by theologians, writers, philosophers, atheists, activists, and other non-faith denominations, it is easy to be confused and to just altogether drop religion and religious practices in favor of more practical, rational, scientific views.

SUGGESTION TO CARDINALS AND THE NEXT POPE

So, first stop, I suggest to Their Eminences and to His Holiness, to change some of their moral and social views. The Bible is now rendered as an obsolete form of moral authority. While it might have worked before during the times of pontificating apostles and disciples, it no longer works during these modern times of science and atheists. If people are to attend Church and remain faithful to it, then it must initiate changes on some of its views that will help stop discrimination of other people fighting for social justice, gender equality, and basic human rights.

The Bible was written by people, and can be edited by people. Times change, so should our minds and views change with the times.

HYPOCRISY AND FALLIBILITY

How can one forget what the popes of the past centuries did to remain in power? I had a Christian Civilization class back at the university and I learned all the atrocities the popes caused in the name of God. They were the overlords of the emperors and kings who must yield to their every whims and demands. Unless those emperors and kings want to be excommunicated, burn in hell, and be questioned by other monarchs of the legitimacy of their sovereignty, they must obey the pope. These power plays and ego trips by these popes only go to show that the pope is also just a human being capable of human desires, venial sins, and atrocious crimes  (read: greed, lust, infidelity, envy, vanity. and even rape and murder).

It relieves me now to think that although the popes are still considered to be absolute monarchs today, they no longer seem to have the hubris and enjoy the absolute power of a tyrannical despot. The world has truly changed since the Medieval Ages, indeed. I just hope and pray that some things which are still considered to be intrinsically evil (read: homosexuals, divorcees, and pro-choice people) in the eyes of God (or is it just in the eyes of some hypocritical, primitive men?) since the Medieval Ages will soon be recognized by a fallible, human (read: not infallible at all) pope, as natural and as funny as the business of human nature.

If absolute power must be exercised at all by any pope through a papal decree after Pope Benedict XVI, let’s hope he exercises it with liberal open-mindedness and intellectual plasticity, not with authoritarian conservatism and prejudiced liberalism.

A CONVENIENT CATHOLIC

If you wish to find something inspiring from this post, or to find a verisimilitude of a religious epiphany or apparition, you may stop reading now because it isn’t like that at all.

You see, I am what you call a Catholic by virtue of convenience — someone who chooses to believe in his own Catholic version of God and his own Catholic version of moral catholicity. A convenient Catholic.

I realized that there is no point in fighting it. I was born to Catholic parents and was raised a Catholic in a country that is predominantly Catholic.

No matter how hard I tried to intellectualize the existence of God, or his non-existence, I still cannot escape my inherent Catholicism, and cannot bring myself to forget the Catholic traditions of my family. Ultimately, I think it’s good to be a convenient Catholic, to discriminably choose your own version of beliefs and truths, selecting only those that reflect your sense of morality and goodness: some from the Bible and some from the teachings of the Catholic Church.

I’m sure the Pope wouldn’t mind.

Raymund Fernandez of the Philippine Daily Inquirer explains in a column, “Having religion does have its share of conveniences. For one, it provides us the markers we need to structure our lives, the events by which we might recall what we have gone through in our travel through time, baptism, confirmation, first confession, first communion, marriage, birth, death. These are rituals of a cyclical order. They mark not only our own lives but everyone else’s. And that reassures us in a way that we often do not think about too much. Its just there, like some monumental immutable part of the planet, like infrastructure, our world, kalibutan…”

He goes on saying, “[This] is the consequence of being born into the neighborhood religion, the national religion, the religion of our parents. And many of us are Catholics by virtue of that fact. Our religious experiences are defined by it. It might be peculiar but we cannot say that with certainty. We are Catholics that way. We are Catholics not because we need to or chose to. It is simply a convenient fact.”

GOD BLESS THE POPE

But even if I am a self-confessed convenient Catholic, I was still stunned by the decision of the Pope to resign. Still, I couldn’t blame the old man. He’s also just human. I read in the papers that he had made the decision since last year. Consequently, when the news broke, some atheists and non-Catholics alike made some rather insensitive to the point of sacrilegious remarks and wrote as headline for their articles and blog posts like “Chosen By God Quits” and “God Chose The Wrong Guy.”

Oh, come on! Well, here’s a headline for you: “The Pope Is Also Just Another Human Being. Duh.”

He gets tired. He makes mistakes. He changes his mind. And just like God Himself, the Pope also needs to take some rest. It’s about time the old man took some rest. More thank anything, I think His Holiness’ decision to resign is more of a testament to his commitment to serve God and the Catholic people by letting someone more fit and healthy to take over the Vatican. It’s not fair to persecute an 85-year old man just because he wants to spend the remainder of his days as a Benedictine monk.

I, for one, think that it’s actually quite exciting to have a new pope elected by the cardinals and quiver in convenient Catholic anticipation. Besides, it will also give the atheists and non-Catholics another chance to to anticipate another abdication of a Pontiff who is apparently appointed by The God Himself. Win-win. It’s a cause for celebration for both parties of the Catholics and the convenient Catholics & the Atheists and Non-Catholics.

When, I wonder, then, shall we all hear the words “Habemum Papam” again? I guess we’ll all find out together soon.

And whoever he may be, he shall have my unwavering respect and support, along with the rest of the Catholic nation. I know the Catholic Church and the Pope cannot force anyone anymore to believe in God. That is a whole different thing altogether as it is now considered bad form to have someone excommunicated just because he doesn’t share your beliefs. Not even your pious Catholic mother can force you to do that even if she groveled, cried, and begged you to because she fears your soul might be eternally damned.

Now, everything is a matter of choice — the individual’s choice.

But it sure doesn’t hurt to believe or choose to believe in some things, even if those beliefs were just chosen for the sake of convenience. And it sure doesn’t hurt to come home to a happy family celebrating Christmas, hearing mass together and feeling the electrifying, collective energy of the faithful, converts, the on-the-fencers, and the convenients like me.

It sure, as hell, doesn’t hurt to be a convenient Catholic, and to believe in heaven and God. Walang mawawala kung maniwala ka (It wouldn’t hurt to believe).

And it sure doesn’t hurt to celebrate a momentous occasion in Rome together with the rest of the faithful, converts, the on-the-fencers, and the convenients this Ferbruary 28th (if I get my visa on time) at the Vatican. I hope to see you there, too, atheists and non-Catholics. It’s going to be one helluva a thriller event, don’t you think? Cheers!

May God bless the Pope, Benedict XVI, and his successor, and the successor of his successors. And may God bless us all and may God also save the souls of those frightfully wonderful atheists and non-Catholics, too. I hope and pray that they make it to 85 just like the poor, old man who had the great humility to quit in order to rest  and to give way to a younger and abler ecclesiastical ruler by The One Chosen by None Other Than The Man Up, Up,  Up There Himself.

Amen.

An Open Letter To My Dear 233 Readers (And Counting): The Joys Of Having One’s Own Literary E-Column

Franwork2

Dear Readers,

Have you ever felt like there was something missing in your life before? I did. I just felt like there was something I had to do. But what it was, I knew not. It felt as if there was a bottomless well of void within me that had to be filled constantly. It eluded me, prodded me to chase it in the dark. But then one day, last year, I had an epiphany: a sudden flash of myself hunched over a typewriter, typing away for what seemed like a manuscript of some sort. Yes, that was it. I saw myself clearly. I saw it clearly. I am going to be a writer. I want to be a writer. I need to be a writer. I have to be a writer. I now had a name for the once nameless and bottomless well of void: Writing. Since that day, I decided I didn’t want to be just a writer, I decided I want to be a serious writer — a real writer. I want the whole shebang. I want to write my own good novel like that of Wally Lamb’s This Much I Know Is True, and to write as good as my favorite columnists at the Inquirer, Winnie Monsod and Conrado P. de Quiros.

Yes, I am going to be a writer. I want to be a writer. I need to be a writer.  I have to be a writer.

But how could I have not seen it before? It’s all coming back to me now. I used to express my feelings by writing long love letters to my former girlfriends and professing my unwavering love in those letters. I used to tell friends or loved ones just how special they were to me and how happy I was because they were born by writing them personalized birthday cards. I used to be an editor in the school and university’s papers back in high school and college. And looking back, I remember that I used to tell myself how some of my experiences like that of my month-long mental vacation at a mental facility would make such a great story if written just the right way.

But, being an English Major is not enough. Writing love letters and personalized birthday cards, being an editor at schools’ papers, and having great stories in mind aren’t enough. I knew I had to start somewhere, but where exactly that somewhere was, again I knew not. Then suddenly, I thought  of  maintaining a blog. It would be a great exercise at honing my writing abilities. If I could maintain a blog, I thought, I would eventually be forced to be even more serious with my writing. I wouldn’t just be an occasional scribbler or just another bored dabbler, I would actually  be real writer — one who truly practices the art and craft of writing. And this, I believed, I could do by blogging — by creating a new blog. But my question was, what kind of blog will it be?

The truth is I already kept a blog somewhere before, but  I forgot my password, and since I wasn’t really that decided back then about anything in my life, per se (8 years ago), I didn’t bother retrieving the password anymore, and dropped blogging altogether. Years later — now — I finally decided to create a blog that would make sense to me — something inside a familiar territory, one where I could talk about my passions: books, reading, and writing. So I thought why not a literary blog? A literary blog whose main theme would revolve around, in part, on some highlights of my life and my struggles with manic-depression, and also revolve on other people’s lives seen through rose-tinted, sometimes rose-wilted lenses, of different writers, authors, and through the pages of the books they have written (and the books they are still writing).

While I have no problems with people who blog mainly to diarize and rehash their day’s events (or lack thereof), I really don’t like the idea of using a blog as just another avenue or outlet for scribbling away, for reciting a litany of life’s series of tragedies and comedies, and for bemoaning the  frequency of mood swings and other symptoms of manic-depression (I’m referring to myself here). You see, I have this proclivity to talk about myself too much sometimes, and I don’t think it’s exactly an attractive quality.

There’s only so much things you can talk about yourself, albeit highly interesting. Eventually, you will have to run out of things to say about you, you, and you. Nobody is that talented to be able to talk about oneself inexhaustibly, no matter how egotistical a cow one could be. The only talent would be losing people for getting tired of listening to you talk about yourself.

No, I don’t want to talk about myself, at least not that much. That would be an exercise in futility and would defeat the purpose of creating a blog whose main goal is supposed to improve my thought processes and writing. No. What I want is a blog where I can talk about something in my life that others might find useful, not something that will irritate others. What I want is a blog that will give my life a sense of meaning and purpose, one that will allow me to discover and rediscover things, old and new; one that will make me share and talk about my passion for books and reading; one that will, at the same time, help others in making literary decisions  like what books to read or not read. What I want is a blog that will help me become a serious and real writer.

Hence, The Bibliophile Chronicles. A blog that chronicles my dogged intellectual and philosophical pursuits of truths, even half-truths, and the unselfish and honest sharing of parts of my life (even my bipolar disorder and other crazy stuff) that I dearly hope would prove helpful, and if at all possible, even inspiring. And this blog, more than anything else in the world, gives me as do, I suspect, what all serious blogs give to their serious bloggers: a sense of meaning and purpose.

The sense of accomplishment I get from being an entrepreneur and from other non-literary endeavors is not the same as the sense of meaning and purpose I get from blogging and from other literary endeavors.

I treat this  blog as my own literary and opinion column as if it were a column in a syndicated publication of national (in this case, global) circulation. I believe that if I am to be taken seriously, and if I am to really write seriously, it’s the only way I think I should treat it, and I suggest it should be the only way one should treat a blog that is serious about being taken seriously. This way, it will force you to come up with the best ideas and content for your readers, not just some half-hearted and half-baked attempts. This way, it will force you to have the best interests of the readers at heart.

The mere fact that there are people out there who actually read my posts, like it, and then take the time to leave comments, is, I think, quite an accomplishment it itself.  I guess I must doing something right. This, I admit, gives me the kind of instant gratification and validation that lingers on — that never seems to quite go away. I’m glad I went through with this blog. Despite myself being unable to sustain interest in much about anything, keeping what I call my own column on the Internet has greatly increased my passion for literature, and had made me become even more serious about writing. It has given me an even deeper understanding  of duty — it given me a deeper sense of duty to others, particularly,  to you: the readers.

Had I known that keeping a column on the Internet could lead to so many fulfilling doors, I would have done it a long time ago. Still, I have no regrets in the past, only great, realistic expectations and bright hope for the future. But for now, what’s important is that I am able to make peace with the abundant creative energy inside me. And what’s even more important to me than making peace with the abundant creative energy inside me is giving all you readers quality content.

So now, let me take this chance to thank all the people who follows The Bibliophile Chronicles. For subscribing to and for supporting my very own literary e-column, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much. Because of you, there are no longer a bottomless well of void within that needs to be constantly filled, only the blank, white pages of my computer screen. You make me want to become the best writer I could be.

And for that, you, my dear readers, can rest assured that the blank pages will be filled only with something that has your best interests at heart. 

Francis Baraan IV — author, The Bibliophile Chronicles, a literary blog and e-column

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