Tuesday, January 25, 2011

f. sionil jose

It was so surreal to interview National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose! I've always been an avid reader of his thought-provoking books. Back in college, I even stalked his bookstore Solidaridad just to get a glimpse of him. After almost a decade, I finally got to meet him. I was so starstuck that I forgot to take pictures! He was cool enough to let me swing by again to take photos, he even gave me a signed copy of his latest book "Sherds"! :D

Despite the fact that he's a National Artist, he's a very warm man who takes time to talk to the youth. He  wears hats in fear of catching a cold (he even wears a bonnet to bed!) and his favorite food is oysters. Take a peek inside the creative space of writer Mr. F. Sionil Jose! :)

The round table where several political leaders, such as Ninoy Aquino and Carlos Romulo, would come and discuss ideas with F. Sionil Jose
 his books were translated into 22 languages
 his very supportive wife Maria Teresita Jovellanos
Francisco Sionil Jose
(Malate, Philippines)

Occupation: Writer

Favorite toy as a child:

Favorite toy now: Haha! It wouldn't be books, but I like books. I love books! Kanina there was an American scholar here, he was telling me about the E-book. I don't use a computer or a laptop, yan yung ginagamit ko (points to typewriter) or longhand. Sabi ko, "But that's nothing like holding a book!"

What are your turn-ons?

What are your turn-offs? I detest ostentation.I detest people who look down on us. I detest people, who by their actions, demean us. That's why I'm so mad at this girl, yung sa "wine sucks"... Yung nagpunta sa Hanoi na Mislang. Bastos! I wrote to Ricky Carandang to fire her. She has no business working at Malacañang. If she were an ordinary writer like me, ok lang yon. But she represents the Philippines, government yan. If I say that Vietnamese food is awful, ok lang yan, who cares! But if I were the President of the Philippines on a state visit, iba na yon. For instance, I'm invited by someone and the steak is very tough. I want to be honest all the time kung maaari e, "How is the steak?" Sabi ko, "It has character!" Hahaha! Yon ang stock comment ko pag ayaw ko yung pagkain. Ok di ba?

What are the things that inspire you right now?
It's not inspire, hija. It is anger. Well, it can be an inspiration. That's the other side of love, hija. Love inspires, so does hate. 

What are the things that anger you right now? That pushes you to write? Not so much anger, hija, but disappointment. Itong si Noynoy. I like Gibo pero nanalo si Noynoy, what can we do? I understand that maybe I expect too much from him because I knew his father very well. Ninoy used to sit where you are seated, Nick Joaquin din dyan. 

Mitch, I've always been politically conscious nung bata pa ako, meaning when I was in High School. I was already politically conscious when I heard Quezon speak at Luneta. Naintindihan ko na yan. I've seen a lot of political leaders come to power and decay. 3-4 months into office and this President is already showing signs of irreversible decay. I'm very unhappy. Tapos sabi pa niya in Hanoi that his critics are his enemies. No! Ano bang agenda ko? What is the agenda of so many people? We criticize him because we want him to succeed. It was such a pleasure na nawala na si Gloria sa katungkulan, and now here he comes and what does he have to offer? I'm not very happy. And I don't think he's going to change.

Tapos yung budget, ang laki-laki ng mga pork barrel. Everybody knows that these congressmen will spend half of the pork barrel for themselves. I'm really depressed talaga. Wala na bang pag-asa ang bayan natin?

Dito sa bayan natin, Mitch, when you stop complaining or stop talking about all these nasty things that are happening to us, you're dead --- patay ka na!

Favorite movies: Filipino? "Ganito Kami Noon" ni Eddie Romero. I like that very much. Yung kay Fernando Poe atsaka kay Sharon Cuneta, wherein Fernando Poe plays the bodyguard of Sharon. Maganda din yon. None of the Carlo Caparas movies! He's so stupid! You know one of the tragedies sa bayan natin is that a 3rd rate movie maker like Carlo Caparas earns millions. Nakita mo yung story na billion Pesos from the Charity Sweepstakes? While ang best writers cannot live on their writing. 

Foreign... There are so many. Yung Japanese act "Seven Samurai". And there's this other film na nakita ko, it was in Japanese... "Shall We Dance". Nakita mo yon? "Wuthering Heights," it impressed me very much! Batang-bata pa, high school pa lang ako. Si Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy. Ang ganda! Black and white. I saw it in 1938 or 39. 

In the 1950, we step up FAMAS. Kami nila Rosa Rosal, D. Paolo Dizon, Eddie Romero, and more. Si Janice Tuvera, Fred Bunao, we were the writers. Paolo Dizon, Janice Tuvera, Fred Bunao, myself, and Teddy Agcaoili. Lima kaming writers. Atsaka si ano... no pito! Fred Muñoz of Literary Song Movie. May isa pa. Pito kami. We're about 20. We set up FAMAS.

What type of music do you listen to? Some of the songs I like, yung compositions ni, namatay na siya e. The old composers ng Kundiman magagaling sila (Nicanor) Abelardo (Sir Sionil hums the song). Atsaka meron isa pang gustong-gusto ko pop song na kinanta ni Dulce. I prefer, whatshername... Lea to Charice. Si Charice malakas lang ang boses e. Her voice doesn't have the limpid and silver quality ng boses ni Lea

When you're not busy with work, what do you do in your free time? Read, walk, watch TV. Reading relaxes me. Because I enter another world, hija. Not the world of crime, graft, dirt, and violence which is our world.  

What do you enjoy reading, sir? Halo-halo! (He starts showing me his books) Tignan mo 'to, this is the "The Lexus and the Olive Tree", it is about globalization. The selected stories of Willa Cather is one of my favorites. O, China. O, Political Esthetics. O, History Imperial Japan. The Plato Primer. Iuuwi ko mga ito. They'll be my reading for the next few four days siguro pagkatapos yan (points to a another stack of books). Every time I want to relax, I pull this out (a book of poetry by William Butler Yeats). He's my favorite poet. Pareho kami ni Nick Joaquin, gustong-gusto niya ito. 

If you were to choose a different job, what would it be?  I'd be a cook siguro! Hahaha. I'd be a cook or an artist. Or I'd like to be a choreographer. Or a composer. I'd like to be a choreographer or a composer. I like to dance!  

So you like to cook also? No, hindi, I like to eat! Hahaha!

If you can have any super power, what would it be? Alam mo, hija, you are asking very silly questions, pero OK lang! Hahaha! Because yung mga questions na yan hindi pwede mangyari. Hahaha! 

If... if... You  know, I would like to have a lot of money, hija. So that I don't have to worry about making a living, and I'll just be happily writing and writing and writing na lang. But you know, this thing didn't happen. Life is more pain than pleasure. It's in the blood. Yung araw na hindi ako makasulat parang the day is not complete. 

Sir, so you really feel the need to write? Yeah, yeah. And, alam mo that last book, my daughter Jet who is also my... Eto siya (shows me photos of his family). These are my great granddaughter. Mga grandchildren ko ito.

Are they here in the Philippines, Sir? No, only two. They're all in America. 

Nung nabasa niya yung draft of "Sherds", she had many objections, so we had to argue. But she's a very good critic, you know. So sabi ko, "Ano Jet, walang magsasabi  sa akin kung hindi lang ikaw or yung Mama mo or yung mga kapatid mo, shall I stop na?" 

You know, because I know that you'll get the truth from those who really love you eh... yung talagang mga nagmamahal sa yo. "O wag, Papa, pwede pa!", sabi niya that's why inumpisahan ko yung pangalawa. So I sent her the first draft, "Ano hinto na ko, anak? Ano, maganda?" "Hindi pa" sabi niya. So that's it, I'm still writing. Because I'd like to stop when one of my daughters tell me "Laos ka na. Huminto ka na." Because there are some people who don't know when to stop, and that is very sad. Very, very sad talaga. Kala nila... Because the body, the mind, everything ages in this world. Kala nila they're still very good. But at least kung athlete ka, you know when you have to stop because hindi mo na magagawa.  It's difficult you know. Pero if it's the mind that works, it's very difficult. Football players, boxer, basketball players, they know that they have to retire. But the writer wouldn't know eh.

What do you think is  the biggest problem right now? Sa atin? Moral malaise, hija. Consumerism which is basically a moral problem. Poverty is a moral problem, hija, it's not economics. It's not social or political, it's moral. If you get right down to it... you should have listened to the discussion I had with this writer na Amerikano. There are times when I have people... when the conversation is so interesting, so pertinent and I wish they should have been recorded. Kasi kanina, you know most of Americans are pragmatists.  They deal with the realities. Sabi ko "No", many of the things that bring us problems are problems that start from the heart, sa puso. So I was telling him, this Tiglao, Roberto. He used to be the Ambassador to Greece and now he writes a column for the Inquirer. So he was writing all this statistics and gross, about the era of development. Ok, it was statistics, but on the surface. Sa ibaba, which is deeply embedded in human nature hindi lumalabas yon. And it's the artists, the writers who are capable of bringing this out. Because we were discussing development kanina, why is it that countries develop on other's decay. Why do empires flourish and they also decay. In other words, the story of civilization, not just the story of man. So I was quoting to him my favorite American jurisprudence authority... and I remembered his quote which I read a long time ago, and it's still with me since then. Sabi niya, "Freedom, the spirit of liberty is in the heart. When it dies there, no constitution, no court of law can restore it." So in other words, hija, in that mycosis and result of human development springs deeply from the heart. It's the heart, the spirit that moves men and nations. And the vitality, the strength, and the integrity of that heart, of that man, can be seen in what he does. So makikita mo na an institution decaying or flourishing. Ganon dito sa Pilipinas, because so many of the Filipinos, the Filipino leaders wala silang puso. They have no sense of nation kaya ganito tayo. 

Have you been to Hong Kong, Mitch? On Sundays, pumunta ka sa Star Ferry in Victoria Island, hundreds of Filipino maids andon sila nakaupo sa sidewalk kumakain, nagkukwentuhan sila. And everyone who passes by will recognize them as the Filipino domestics in Hong Kong. Kung Pilipino ka, makita mo silang ganon you get very ashamed. Ganito na ba ang nangyari sa atin mga Pilipino? Sabi nung taga-Hong Kong, we are a nation of servants. Pero yung mga mayayaman na Pilipino they don't care because hindi na sila Pilipino, you understand? Ang puso nila hindi Pilipino so hindi sila nahihiya, hindi sila napapahiya, you follow? Pero kung Pilipino ka sa puso, makikita mo mga kababayan mo na ganon, mapapahiya ka. That's what I mean. That is perhaps the best illustration. Why do you care? Hindi ka naman Pilipino, kahit na Pilipino passport mo but deep in your heart hindi ka Pilipino. Wala kang malasakit sa bayan mo, this is what I mean. That is my example now.

What do you think is the solution to moral malaise? I've answered that question long ago. Nothing less than a revolution, hija, nothing less. I feel guilty saying these things because who am I to want a revolution when I'm here in this air-conditioned bookshop being comfortable. 

You know, isang bata na kakilala ko si Eman Lacaba, younger brother ni Pete Lacaba, he used to come to the bookshop, naupo diyan. I try to give time to all the young people who come to see me, you know. Kung minsan I feel guilty about Maningning Miclat, do you know her? Because she used to be there too. So sabi ko, I should have given her more of my time, because we would discuss literature. Nagsusulat siya ng poetry. I don't want to give a bleak image to these people, lalo na si Eman. So nagulat na lang ako nung sinabi na namatay siya sa Davao. So sabi ko, baka our discussions confirmed him kaya napunta siya doon, you know. Sometimes I have to think hard about my own political beliefs, because alam kong yan ang solution. I can only say matanda na ko, I have no time to go join a revolutionary movement. Kaya galit na galit din ako sa mga komunista because hindi nila ginagamit ang utak nila. I have communist friends, writers... mali kayo mali kayo. Sila Satur, mga kaibigan ko yan, si Bobby Malay. They're my friends and I love them dearly. I know that they have suffered a lot, especially sila Bobby and Satur. Pero isipin mo, nakakahinayang, and also many of them were betrayed by their own comrades. 

What is the most important life lesson you've learned so far? Compassion. That is what is lacking sa mundo natin. 

Have you read Bertolt Brecht? The communist poet and playwright. He wrote a poem shortly after World War II, an ode to the next generation. I remember two lines lang doon, one line is, "shouting about injustice hoarsens the voice". Naintindihan mo yon? Specifically addressed to writers. So be careful that you don't shout too long or too loud because your voice will hoarsen. The other is, "And we who want the world to be kind cannot ourselves be kind." Kung minsan naisip ko yon, I want the world to be kind but have I been kind myself, kung minsan hindi.

Is that the most inspiring statement you've heard? Hindi naman, hindi naman. But they are things that I remember. It's difficult to be self-righteous also.

What's the most inspiring statement you've heard? Not the most inspiring statement, hija, but my greatest inspiration is Rizal mismo, number one. The greatest influence in my life as a writer is Rizal. 

My greatest influence as a person was my mother, yung nanay ko. She taught me sacrifice, hard work, virtue. We were very poor, my mother worked very hard for us her children. Nung nakita niya na I liked reading, nung bata ako she would go all over town looking for books for me to read. Because she herself, her generation, she finished Grade 7. Shortly after the turn of the century atsaka her teachers were the first teachers --- the Thomasites, yung mga American soldiers. And in those days, when you finish Grade 7 you can teach already. So she also taught English for a while. You know, if you saw her she was a tiny woman, nakapinggol (pusod), we call it in Ilocano yung buhok niya dito and she was always in the baro't saya. She never wore Western dress, and she never wore shoes. Puro mga sapatos ang suot niya palagi ay tinatawag namin na kutso, you don't see it anymore. Parang slipper na makapal ang swelas na ganito.

Yung parang may takip po tapos may embroidery? Yeah! We call it kutso. Yan ang palaging sinusuot niya. When we had foreign visitors, mga scholars na ganyan, I would introduce her to them and she would speak beautiful perfect English because yung mga Thomasites they taught beautiful English. And my children would be, "Ay si Lola ang galing mag-English!" Hahaha!

O, wala ka ng tanong? Haha!


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