Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fiction - NEW TRICKS, Dugtungan/Connecting Story by Brainard, Cantor, De Jesus, Evangelista, Montes, Sarreal

Tomorrow I'll be giving a talk to Carol Kimbrough's students at Cal State Fullerton about the literary style called Dugtungan, or Connecting Story.  This collaborative style of writing was popular in the Philippines in the 1920 - 1930s, a style that my writing group tried to do.

 Six of us, all women writers, connected via internet and critiqued one another's writing.  This went on for years, and at some point, we decided to try writing a Dugtungan piece. How it went was that one person would write a paragraph or two, and then pass it on the story to the next person, and so on, until the story ended. We edited the work, and like magic, we came up with this comic piece "New Tricks."  Nadine Sarreal submitted it to a Call for Submission for an anthology with the theme of "heartbreak."  We coined a pseudonym from our names, coming up with Celinosan Montreal.  If you look at it carefully, you will note that this name includes Cecilia, Libay, Noelle, Susan, Montes, and Sarreal - parts of our names.  The short fiction was accepted for publication in SAWI's heartbreak anthology.

Encouraged by this literary success, Cecilia, Susan, and Nadine formed the core group for another set of women who went on to write a novel, Angelica's Daughters (published by Anvil 2010). This novel got excellent reviews including one from a German University Journal. You can read the entire review by clicking on the following link.

So today, my mind will be working some more on what I should say tomorrow about the dugtungan process and Angelica's Daughters. Wish me luck.  And enjoy the story "New Tricks" included  in this blog entry.

The picture above shows l-r: Susan Evangelista, Cecilia Brainard, and Nadine Sarreal, who participated in the two dugtungan projects.


                                 By Celinosan Montreal, part of SAWI's Heartbreak Anthology, copyright 2003, published by Milflores  (Note that Celinosan Montreal is the pen name of a group of women writers: Cecilia Brainard, Libay Cantor, Noelle de Jesus, Susan Evangelista, Veronica Montes, Nadine Sarreal)

Perhaps Luisa’s violent death in a recent car accident made Sandra  decide she was weary of being a virgin. One day after her morning shower, she looked at herself in the mirror and knew she couldn’t be a "good girl" anymore.
She spent all those years fending off boys to preserve her virginity! Why hadn’t she gone ahead and lived fully as Luisa had? “Life’s not a dry run,” her friend would wink before she slipped away from a party with a boy. Even though Sandra had silently condemned Luisa for acting cheap, now, seeing her own image in the mirror, she realized Luisa had been right. Life’s not a dry run–where had the years gone? She was 39 years old, a confirmed spinster, her waist thickening, thighs and arms showing signs of flab. Her face was puffy, the definition of her chin vanishing, bags were forming under her eyes. The moustache above her thin lips was growing darker, too. It was time for new tricks.
She remembered teenage days when she and Luisa meticulously waxed themselves. The memory pained and amused her simultaneously: two seventeen-year olds in pajamas, hair up in curlers; Luisa, the more brash one, slathering Nair on Sandra’s legs and upper lip, saying if you want a boy to like you, you have to depilate.
"Wax! Wax! Wax!” sang the poor old virgin. “Ouch ouch ouch!” said the poor old virgin. “Hey, that's me! Shi-yet. Well today, the world will see a different Sandra! Here I come!"




            "Aray! Hok-kei, next up, concealer! Luisa insisted on double application...Hope I get this right... (pahid, pahid)… Alright, what's next?"

            Sandra opened the purse of Clinique mini-products from Luisa.  "Mascara... eyeliner... lotion... Hmm, did Olivia Newton-John have the same problem shooting Grease? Ah, whatever! Luisa never coordinated her make-up or grooming, yet she got all the boys! So that's what I'll do…a spritz of Escada Sport and I’m done."

           Pfzzzst! Pfzzzst!
Sandra shut her eyes and breathed deeply. Lola had always told her she was beautiful. And before he died, Papa said she didn't need lipstick, powder or eyeshadow. What is beauty anyway? True beauty is a disposition. Despite her attachment to luxury brand cosmetics, even Luisa had known that. Now Luisa was gone--Luisa, who could have, and usually did have, any man she wanted. She had an evanescence, like light through paper thin Japanese lanterns which  Sandra had seen and envied, even as she had been glad to be near it. And now, even that closeness she shared with her friend, she couldn’t have anymore.

As Sandra drove to the Makati office where she was a brand consultant for a local food conglomerate, she blinked back scalding tears. She was so alone. Sandra vowed that starting today, she would make her life new. It was pathetic to have this teenage-type of epiphany. How did one change one's life? Sandra was startled by the dramatic look of her eyes in the rearview mirror. “Sandra,” she told herself, “one just changes one's life.”
She pulled into the underground carpark where the sunlight dissolved into dark shadows. She reached for her cellphone and scrolled to a number she had kept for over two years. She would text Miguel and ask him to dinner. Why not? Old friends do these things. They reach out and ask each other to dinner.
Sandra’s cellphone vibrated a quick response. As it beamed his reply, she beamed back at it. His message read: That would be great. See you at your office at seven.
Sandra fidgeted all day, alternately checking her watch and the wall clock every 15 minutes. Isabel teased her. "Uy, what's up with our dalaga? Got a hot date? With whom?" Later, perhaps noticing the wax job and extra make-up, Isabel crowed, "Look at this! Our dalaga is blooming!!"
Sandra winced when other people were described as 'blooming.' And to call someone who was 39 'blooming' bordered on ridiculous. But she'd have to forgive Isabel: the whole office, had been treading on eggshells around her since Luisa had died. Their sympathy and concern were obvious even when unspoken.
Noontime came. Sandra considered rushing out to find something new and stylish to wear. A plunging neckline could do wonders. She remembered one time she, Miguel, Luisa and some other friends had gone out together. Sexual innuendoes had flown between Luisa and Miguel--Luisa got into that kind of banter easily. Some of her more suggestive remarks had been about Sandra and Miguel. Miguel had laughed and seemed pleased. But nothing had happened, even when they’d been alone later that evening--alone and slightly drunk. Sandra found him attractive, attentive, even flirty--but somehow the sparks hadn't turned to fire. And he’d never called.
Miguel attended Luisa’s wake one evening, but Sandra had missed him. She hoped he hadn't accepted her invitation tonight because he pitied her for losing her dearest friend. Even so, why shouldn’t she see him anyway? She wasn't expecting anything--just dinner, some catching up, some quiet talk. Ha! Yet Sandra knew tonight would usher in a new side to her personality and she was excited to meet this siren!
She dragged through the afternoon, unable to focus during a meeting, and actually forgot an appointment. Had Isabel noticed, she might have said "What's this? Our dalaga fantasizing on company time?"
And then finally, finally, it was seven o'clock. In the ladies’ room, she combed her hair, freshened her make-up, used a generous amount of breath spray, and squirted more perfume between her heavy breasts.
And as she walked to the lobby, she saw Miguel waiting.
But wait. His hair! Had it always been this thin? Well, it had been two years. At his age, that could bring a mind-boggling number of physical changes. She ran a fingertip across her now-invisible moustache. Miguel, she flinched, was almost bald.
Giddy with courage, she walked to him and clutched his right arm. A pleasant feeling fluttered below her stomach when she felt his bicep flex. She stood on tiptoe to whisper in his ear, "Come to my place. I want to give you a bath."
"Hey!" Miguel sprang back and yelled over her shoulder, "You work in Makati!"
Sandra turned her head. Who had stolen Miguel's attention? He hadn't heard her invitation for no-strings-attached sex. Sandra squinted her eyes at a small man in his late twenties dressed in a shimmering blue shirt, the kind one might wear to a nightclub. He looked familiar.
She put her hand on Miguel’s chest, and raised up on her toes again to whisper, "Come to my--"
"Sandali, Sandra, one sec." Miguel took her hand from his shirt. "I’ll say hello to my brod, Pete." Miguel strode towards the shorter man.
Sandra felt jealous. She recognized Pete, the second-shift receptionist. Isabel called him “Petula” because his face was too pretty for a man. It was rumored he knew everything about everyone because he would sneak into the HR office during the dead hours and riffle through the files. Isabel said Pete had his job for life, a menial one that somehow came with executive pay, because he knew each of the CEO's mistresses.
Sandra snuck a look at her reflection in the shiny chrome post to her right to check her make up. Her face stretched around the curved surface, but aside from that distortion, she looked damned good. Hairless upper lip, eyes enlarged with mascara, cheeks blooming with color courtesy of Clinique, and lips appealingly glossy and neatly colored red. Yet Miguel was still busy gabbing with Pete. He had his back to her (but what a handsomely broad back!) and gestured enthusiastically while Pete seemed to cower in front of him. "You're one hot tomato!" she mouthed at the stretchy-faced reflection. She pushed her chest out. How could Miguel ignore her?
"Oooh, baybeh!" she addressed the post. "He’ll be a tired macho man tonight!" She felt her excitement rising. She winked at her reflection. This new Sandra was quite a babe, a survivor, even under challenging circumstances. She peered at the men still engaged in heated discussion. She put one hand on her hip and draped the other loosely over her heart, imitating Luisa’s pose before attentive men. She tipped her head so her bangs fell seductively over her left eye. "Aren't you the sweetest?" she drawled at the chrome siren. Sandra cleared her throat but Miguel took no note of her.
She worked harder at her sexy self. Jutting her left hip out and looking at her reflection with half-closed eyes, Sandra said softly, “I” and pointed her index finger at her heart, “want” and batted her eyelashes at her chrome twin, “to take a bath,” swaying her hips and shifting her weight to her right foot, “with you,” and pointed her index finger at the post. She turned, hoping Miguel would catch her in this sexy pose.
And her heart plummeted. The man who was to have taken her home for a bubble bath, the man whose biceps she had squeezed earlier, the man she had hoped to present with her virginity...he had Pete locked in a tight-more-than-just-platonic-old-fraternity-brod embrace. Miguel’s head was on Pete's narrow shoulder, as he wept. He ran his hands up and down Pete’s back. Was Pete blackmailing Miguel, too? Sandra knew better from the way Pete stood stiffly, dread on his face.
"Whhhyyyyy?" Miguel wailed. "Why did you leave me? I needed you-hoo-hoo-hoo!!!"
Ay, bweeeeeesit! Sandra stamped her foot and left Miguel with the cringing Pete. She sighed as she got into her car. Maybe she’d try the new bar at the Shang. "I would’ve never thought," she sighed, "not Miguel. This won't be easy." Ay, if only Luisa were still here to teach her step-by-step.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was fun to read again! Nadine