Friday, February 05, 2016

Literary Again

I'd been updating my CV. A great way of documenting my work was to go through this blog. It was wonderful seeing my posts from the last 10 years. I'd grown a lot. When I started this blog, there was no financial meltdown, I had a new novel coming out--things change.

At some point, I stopped focusing on literary stuff and opened it up to all sorts of stuff.  I was exploring my world, I guess. I wrote on my blog less--as I had other writing projects that took up my time. 

Now, I think I should just focus on the writing. And go back to looking at the world purely through a literary lens. 

Literary is back.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thank You for the Thank Yous

Over the years, I've taught students about writing or would read a friend's manuscript. I might give literary direction here and there.  Or I get the chance to work on a book at my job as a technical writer.  The point is I get to be a part of that exciting and, sometimes, laborious process of writing a book. 

Honestly, I can't begin to tell you how many books or short stories I've read and given feedback on.  For whatever reason, 2015 saw the publication of four books in which I was listed in the "acknowledgement page."  It was truly a joy to see the progression of these writers and their books.  Three of them are first time authors and 2015 will figure into their lives as monumental. 

What made these acknowledgements important to me was the idea that I'm on the right path.  I've been in Buddhist divinity school and this year I made an incredible spiritual leap--I got ordained!  Seeing these books become a reality reinforces that I'm slowly moving along on this Bodhisattva path (or path of being helpful).

I was one of many to be acknowledged (as it always takes more than one person to write a book), but I was honored to be there on their journeys. 

Check out their books. 
1.  How to be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras

2.  The Paper Man by Gallagher Lawson

3.  Still Life: Las Vegas by James Sie

4.  The Problem of College Readiness Edited by William G. Tierney and Julia C. Duncheon


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why I'm Honoring the Moon Tonight

Tonight I'm going to honor the Moon--a truly rare event is happening. I've explored this theme in my second novel, Talking to the Moon.
Before Christians arrived and forced The Philippines to switch over to the solar calendar, my ancestors paid attention to the lunar calendar (like many other Asian countries). When we were forced to quit worshiping the Moon, all the dances, songs and celebrations died with it. In other words, cultural genocide took place. Read about the Popes apology to indigenous people HERE. (Though it was meant for the Americas, I believe it should extend to other countries.)

"Brighter, brighter, shine you moon; brighter, brighter shine you moon/
I will follow the trail to the hot lands; I will follow the trail to the hot lands*/Rocks, rocks to step on/ rocks, rocks to step on/Bamboo, bamboo to hold to; bamboo, bamboo to hold to."

Naboloi Songs, as recorded by C.R. Moss and A.L. Kroeber, UC Press Berkeley, May 10, 1919.

*I've pondered what "hot lands" means. I can guess that it means guiding one to another celestial deity, The Sun. Or I've guessed it to mean the lowlands of the Philippines, which is considerably warmer than the mountain provinces of the Philippines (where these words originate). Indeed, that journey down the mountain means stepping on rocks and holding onto bamboo trees for support, something the song also refers to. Other interpretations are welcome.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

On Painting Joshua Tree

My agent has my novel now and I'd been in limbo for several weeks now. I am a creative person and feel the tingle to write, but I'm exhausted.  I'm using my creativity in other ways though. I'm painting. Rather than words, I'm using paint, paper and canvas to speak.  I was in Joshua Tree not too long ago and took some pictures.  Yes, I have exact replicas of Joshua Tree via photos, but it's not capturing the wonder and joy that I felt.  I hope these paintings can help exude that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

On Beijing

Summer Palace
I hadn't written about this because to do so meant it was over.

I was in China from March 15 - 20. It was a wonderful, life affirming, life changing trip.  It was great being connected to a history that way.  I was in ancient environments. I climbed the Great Wall and walked around the Forbidden City.  It was really amazing and it will take me awhile to process this.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Remembering Ayofemi, Remember Why

Ayofemi Folayan passed away recently.  She was my first writing teacher, and I owe her a tremendous amount of gratitude.  In the early 1990's, I was a few years out of acting school, and not acting.  Creativity had always been a strong tool in dealing with the world, and I needed to be creative.  As any actor will you, you're never acting enough and you're usually waiting for someone's permission to act. 

I started her writing workshop, a space she had for LGBT people of color.  She wanted space for young writers to say whatever they wanted to say.  She encouraged writing exploring issues of being a double minority.  I had been in creative spaces before--I had a degree in Theatre.  However, her class was different.  She asked us to travel deeply within ourselves, uncork our thoughts on truly difficult themes: racism, homophobia, immigration.  She helped me become a person who could comfortably speak my mind--with tact and generosity.  She helped developed my Voice. 

One day, she said she was selling her computer for a newer one.  I bought it.  And still have it.  I typed out stories on this old clunker.  I dug it out to look at it and remember my joy of writing in the first place. 

It's been twenty years, and I may have become a little jaded.  I'm being asked to consider "the market" when I write.  Can I sell whatever story I'm writing.  I must confess I had been having some frustration with my current novel.  I feel like my Voice had been muddled.  I'd been choking on what to say.

With Ayofemi's passing, I'm reminded as to why I started writing.  I wanted to do something honest and true.  I wanted to put something out in the world that was valuable.  I wanted to be the kind of writer Ayofemi would have been proud of.  And I still do.


Thank you, Ayofemi, for your service.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

"LGBT Writers Who Inspire Us" on June 6th!

Skylight Books has been kind enough to allow me to curate this series.  It's been in existence for three years, and falls on the eve of Gay Pride in Los Angeles.  On June 6, the work of James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, Lidia Yuknavitch, Eloise Klein Healy, and Jerome Steuart will be explored by some of today's finest writers.  Naomi Hirahara, Ali Liebegott, Wendy Ortiz, and Jervey Tervalon will light up the night!
June 6
Skylight Books
1818 N. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles  CA  90027

Naomi Hirahara is an Edgar Award Winning writer.  Her debut mystery Summer of the Big Bachi received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.   It has been included in the trade magazine's list of best books of 2004, as well as the best mystery list of the Chicago Tribune. Gasa-Gasa Girl, the second Mas Arai mystery, received a starred review from Booklist and was on the Southern California Booksellers' Association bestseller list for two weeks in 2005. Most recently Snakeskin Shamisen, the third in the series, was released in May 2006. In April 2007 it won an Edgar Allan Poe award in the category of Best Paperback Original.

Ali Liebegott is the author of the award-winning books The Beautifully Worthless and The IHOP Papers. In 2010 she took a train trip across America interviewing female poets for a project titled, The Heart Has Many Doors; excerpts from these interviews are posted monthly on The Believer Logger.

Wendy C. Ortiz is a Los Angeles native. Her first book, Excavation: A Memoir, will be published by Future Tense Books in summer 2014. Her second book, Hollywood Notebook, is forthcoming from Writ Large Press in 2014. She currently writes the monthly column "On the Trail of Mary Jane" about medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles for McSweeney's Internet Tendency. 

Jervey Tervalon is the author of All the Trouble You Need, Understand This, and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Dead Above Ground. An award-winning poet, screenwriter, and dramatist, Jervey was born in New Orleans, raised in Los Angeles, and now lives in Altadena, California, with his wife and two daughters.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why I'm Happy Rose Won X-Factor Israel!

Rose Fostanes, the Filipino Caregiver (kind work for the "help") won X-Factor Israel.  I stumbled onto her presence via You-Tube, while I was watching other Filipinos singing in competitions all over the world--from American Idol to the British version of the Voice to Australia's Got Talent. 

Why?  Yes, I enjoy seeing other Filipinos express their talent on the world stage; yes, I love a good song by a great voice; yes, I love seeing people go for their dreams.  Especially underdogs like Paul Potts, the opera singer on Britain's Got Talent.

In the 1980s, when I was a college student, I spent a summer in the Philippines.  Like many young people, I spent a lot of time in bars and inhaled an obscene amount of San Miguel beer.  In those bars, there was a lot of live music.  With all of that music, there were a slew of singers who blew the roofs away.  I heard singer after singer who sounded just as good, if not better, than the singers I heard in the United States. 

I still get emotional when I hear the song "Honky Tonk Woman," remembering a large Filipina in a Manila bar rock the joint like I'd never seen a joint get rocked before.  I had a blast.  In the back of my mind though, I thought it a pity that these amazing voices would never be known outside of the Philippines. 

Rose Fostanes is such a voice.  So was Arnel Pineda or Charice--singers who were discovered because of the wonders of You-Tube (helped along with Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah highlighting them on their shows). 

I enjoyed that Summer in college where I visited the Philippines, where I was born.  I thought of all of those grand voices who would never be heard, and I know it colored my world view, my creative endeavors. 

I logged onto You-Tube occasionally to see how Rose was doing on X-Factor Israel.  I thought she was the best voice on the show, but the best doesn't always win (think of Adam Lambert or Jessica Sanchez on American Idol).  She was a foreigner in Israel.  At 47, she was singing against people half her age.  At 4'11'' she was the shortest person on stage (and looked miniscule standing next to host and supermodel Bar Rafaeli).  She was not svelte.  She was the only singer who didn't sing at least one song in Hebrew.  Later, she came out as a lesbian.  In another setting, Rose may have been the maid to any one of the judges or contestants on the show.  (There are roughly 20,000 - 30,000 Filipinos working as domestics in Israel--and a lot more working in the Middle East)

With all of these things going for her (or against her), I thought she would do well, but not win.  After all, Rose was competing against home grown talent: a charming boy band, a cute young guy who sang Hebrew ballads, and a lovely pop singer with a dazzling smile. 

Then my facebook newsfeed went afire with the announcement of her win.  I checked at least two news outlets to make sure this was true.  I was happy for her, truly happy.  I know the Philippines, a country that has been suffering from a spate of bad news (a devastating typhoon, pork barrel scams by local politicians, a brewing altercation with China) made her win a win for many Filipinos struggling to get by. 

Her unknown voice became heard.    The Underdog won.  Who can't appreciate that?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books

I was thrilled to be asked to write a review for Los Angeles Review of Books.  It can be exciting and scary writing a review.  I'm asked to bring my best critical thinking skills--which is good!  However, sometimes a book can be a real stinker--which is bad.  Fortunately, that was not the experience reviewing Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.

From the review:

Fortunately, Levithan did not write a mere “It Gets Better” novel. Thank Gawd! “It Gets Better,” a ubiquitous phrase to discourage gay youth from committing suicide, was uttered by every LGBT ally, including President Obama. It was a pat message telling young queers to hold-on-and-things-will-look-up. What was missing in the messaging was this: it only gets better if we make it so. This kiss in Levithan’s novel is a defiant act, one that has actual strength.

The Power of a (Gay) Kiss
The full review can be found here.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My First Dharma Talk

It was a stellar year, academically, creatively and spiritually. A highlight for me was giving my first Dharma Talks (Buddhist Homilies or sermons) for my Buddhist Homiletics Course. Here is my final project. I got an "A" in class.

UPDATE: My dharma talk was featured on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship Website here

World AIDS Day—a Meditation on Impermanence, Groundlessness and Reincarnation


I want to acknowledge Sunday, December 1, as World AIDS Day, a time to remember those who passed from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS. I’d been involved in AIDS work for more than twenty years. World AIDS Day started in 1987. In the last 25 years, I’d been involved in some kind of World AIDS Day event for at least 15 of those years.

Even though it is designated for one day it is not uncommon to have events throughout the month of December. In the past, I’ve participated in World AIDS Day events by hosting shows, performing, handing out awards, or going on marches. This year, I’d like to honor the occasion with this presentation. I’d like to add this this talk World AIDS Day—a Mediation on Impermanence, Groundlessness and Reincarnation to World AIDS Day events happening all over the globe.

I was 12 years old when I first heard of the disease. A local reporter named Connie Chung said something was killing gay men. It was initially known as Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome or GRID. It was also known as the “Gay Cancer.” When it was discovered that this new disease was in the blood, that anyone regardless of sexual orientation could get it, it was renamed: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or AIDS.

It was interesting growing up in the 1980’s with this in the periphery of my burgeoning gay life. I was coming out yet didn’t want to come out entirely because I feared somehow this AIDS thing would get me. I knew enough that AIDS could only be passed doing certain behavior—unprotected sex, using unclean needles—and if I stayed away from those behaviors I wouldn’t get it.


In my mind I couldn’t stop equating gay life with AIDS. Indeed, that was probably the stereotype for most people at the time. It was a message that had been perpetuated for years to come. I was dining with a friend of mine who went through reparative therapy in the 1990’s. Reparative therapy is a technique some believe can actually repair the internal defect of homosexuality. My friend told me that one of the ways they reinforced heterosexual behavior was by saying that gay people die of AIDS.

This is true. Gay people do die of AIDS. So do straight people. So do old people, and young people. Children. Parents. Whole families died of AIDS. I think about the karmic repercussions of this. When it was GRID, with only a few thousand gay men dead, the government, the world did not respond well. Theories were abound about how HIV was a government plot to rid the world of certain undesirable minorities—homosexuals, drug users. President Reagan finally asked his Surgeon General, C. Everette Coop, to write a report on AIDS in 1986—five years into the epidemic.

In other words, there was no compassion, and a world without compassion, leads to the death of gay, straight, men, women, old, young. I must say many faith institutions failed in this regard. Institutions who failed in meeting the needs of the sick, the infirmed, the hungry, the helpless.

There were beacons. Reverend Carl Bean, Mother Theresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu. They were people of faith who instilled faith. However, their voices seemed to be drowned out by religious or political leaders believing AIDS was God’s wrath on sinners.


"From the highest heavens to the very depths of hell, there is not a single being who can escape death," wrote Patrul Rinpoche in The Words of My Perfect Teacher.

There are 9.9 million people in Los Angeles County. Can you imagine everyone in Los Angeles dead? Then multiply that by three. That’s how many people have died of AIDS. Since the first recorded cases in 1981, over 30 million people have died. Then imagine two people affected by an AIDS Death—a mother and father or a brother and sister or a best friend and a spouse.

For every AIDS death, at least Sixty million people were affected by this. In some parts of Africa where whole families perished of HIV when babies got it from breast milk, another form of transmission. Millions experienced impermanence, the idea that life, things, places are fleeting.

Nothing is static. This is a brilliant idea.  No one talks about how tragic and hard and sad this can be.

I started doing volunteer work at the Chris Brownlee Hospice for People with AIDS in 1990. There was a mother sitting by her son’s bedside. I knew he didn’t have long. In a way, I hoped he’d die soon, because he seemed to be in so much pain. The day came when he passed, and I saw his mother fall apart. She cried and stomped her feet. She wailed and shook her head.

This was impermanence. This is the ugliness of change. Impermanence is not for the weak.


There was nothing more earth shattering than a death. Then to experience them again and again and again and again is not only earth shattering—the whole universe is obliterated. There is no ground. In 1993, I got a job at the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team.

Groundlessness was part of the work. We prevented HIV by handing out Safer Sex Kits. They were small bags which contained condoms and lubricant. We gave away thousands of safer sex kits a year. My co-workers and I would sit there for hours sometimes making these kits. It came to the point that our boss suggested we get volunteers to make them because we should be doing other more important duties related to our jobs.

Unable to find volunteer, or perhaps unwilling to find volunteers, we returned to making the safer sex kits. Again, our boss suggested we find volunteers to take over. We experienced staff and clients dying of AIDS, but we continued to make safer sex kits. Open bag, fill them with condoms and lube, seal with a sticker. Open Bag, fill them with condoms and lube, seal with a sticker.

A grief counselor came in to help us with the high turnover of deaths. She explained that during these times, repetition was good for staff. It gave us something stable to do in an unstable world. We made the connection that making the safer sex kits was way of coping with grief. It was repetitious behavior that gave a sense of certainty. It gave us Ground. Our boss never bothered us again. I didn’t know it then, but I would come to experience Reincarnation.


Let me be clear, when I talk about reincarnation, I’m not talking about a physical death leading to another physical or celestial incarnation. I’m talking about finding a new life in this life. Like this blank piece of paper, which turned into a page for my dharma talk, then an airplane. In a matter of less than 12 hours, it had three lives already. I’m talking about finding new meaning in an old one.

In The Art of Living , His Holiness the Dalai Lama, said, “Personally, I have lost my country and, worse still, in my country there has been a lot of destruction, suffering and unhappiness. I have spent not only the majority of my life but also the best part of my life outside of Tibet. If you think of this from that angle alone, there is hardly anything that is positive. But from another angle, you can see that because of these unfortunate things I have had another type of freedom, such as the opportunity of meeting different people from different traditions, and also of meeting scientists from different fields. From those experiences my life has been enriched and I have learned many valuable things. So my tragic experiences have also had some valuable aspects.”

I wish AIDS never happened, but it did. For me, I don’t want the death of 30 million people to be in vain. I want it to have meaning. On a grander scale, we can see how these deaths came about due to ignorance and stigma. We learned: Knowledge is power, Silence equals death. Personally, I learned love is power, and that power can free someone else.

When I was doing AIDS work, my mother, a nurse was also doing AIDS work. She worked at an AIDS ward in a hospital. There came a point when I wanted to come out to her. I was in my mid-twenties and felt it was time. When I told her, she wasn’t surprised. As a matter of fact, she seemed pleased.

She told me about the gay men, the gay dying men, she met at her job. “They really stay with each other,” she said, referring to a man who kept vigil over his dying partner. “I don’t even see that with heterosexuals sometimes.”

For those gay men, they were doing something natural, something that was part of any loving relationship. For my mother, this affection humanized gay people, allowing a gay son to get closer to his mother.


Back then, the average age of a person who died of AIDS was 44. A gay man in his twenties was middle-aged. I was that gay man. Like a person going through a mid-life crisis I wondered if there was something else to what I was doing, experiencing, feeling. I learned other things, perhaps took chances I wouldn’t have normally taken. I risked being an artist, risked being a writer, risked falling in love.

Pema Chodron spoke of this in her essay When Things Fall Apart :

“I have a friend dying of AIDS. Before I was leaving for a trip, we were talking. He said, ‘I didn’t want this, and I hated this, and I was terrified of this. But it turns out that this illness has been my greatest gift.’ He said, ‘Now, every moment is so precious to me. All the people in my life are so precious to me. My whole life means so much to me’. Something had really changed, and he felt ready for his death. Something that was horrifying and scary had turned into a gift. “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”


Last month, I remembered that time in the early 1990’s, a time when more people had died of AIDS than at any other time of this history of HIV. I went to two memorials and Typhoon Haiyan devastated The Philippines, the country where my family is from.

I was reminded of the helplessness and loss. I felt groundless again—things “fell apart.” I also knew that things would come together again.

In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, the story of Rick, a man with AIDS offered this: “The first thing I realized was that you must take personal responsibility for yourself. The reason I am dying is that I have AIDS. That is my responsibility; no one else is to blame. In fact there is no one to blame, not even myself. But I take responsibility for that.

“I made a vow to myself and to whatever gods there may be before I came into Buddhism, that I just wanted to be happy. When…I made that decision, I stuck to it. And this is very important in doing any kind of training of the mind. You must make the decision that you really want to change. If you don’t want to change, no one is going to do the work for you.”

Things have, indeed, changed from those deadly days. AIDS is no longer seen as a fatal disease. It’s considered manageable, at least for those in North America and parts of Europe.

For World AIDS Day we must not forget the rest of the world. Let’s remember: love is power, and that power can free someone else.