“Revisiting Those Homecoming Blues” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Oct. 22-28, 2014)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of October 22-28, 2014

I wrote the following essay way back in 1997. It was published under the “Youngblood” column that welcomes contributions from the twentysomething or below in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. My piece appeared on the same day that Batch 1987 had its 10th year reunion on Dec. 27, 1997 in our alma mater, the Manila Science High School. Since October is MaSci’s foundation month, please allow me to share this essay with all of you as I remember how my special science high school education shaped me in a lot of ways. Now imagine me ten years out of high school, 27 years old and full of nostalgic angst, hunkering down to write this all those years ago. Has anything really changed since then? ***********************************

By Blesilda I. R. Carmona

It’s been 10 years since our batch graduated from the Manila Science High School. I don’t know what will happen on our alumni homecoming, but I do know that the prospect of meeting my batchmates has filled me with some apprehensions these last few days. It’s been 10 years, and what have I got to show for it?

If our batch had compiled a short list of the most likely to succeed, I certainly would have been on it. I was a popular campus figure. I graduated first honorable mention, copped the excellence award in English, and received the Gerry Roxas leadership award. I still have the slumbook where some batchmates wrote their mushy dedications predicting a rosy future for me. Most wrote that they’d never forget me and hope I won’t forget them, too.

Would I ever? My batchmates are always on my mind these days. They’re supposed to be the standard against which I should measure myself. But after 10 years, I have been anything but a smashing success.
It depends on how one defines success, you say. But let’s assume the “usual” criteria: career going great guns, improved financial status and standard of living, a happy marriage and home life, and possibly some contributions to Philippine society. When you come right down to it, I fail on every count.

Career going great guns? I have barely started mine while my high school batchmates have already ascended to middle management level. I botched my attempt at a medical course at UP-PGH, decided to shift to a film course in UP Diliman campus, and up to now I haven’t done my thesis-on-video yet. I’ve been in college for a decade now, but I haven’t been able to finish anything. (I do have a BS Basic Medical Sciences degree after finishing two years of pre-med and two years of medicine proper under UP’s Intarmed program. I dropped out in the middle of fourth year proper.)

Earlier this year, I botched my first job. My supervisor at a film company fired me for frequent tardiness and absences, which was entirely my fault. However, I prayed to God to help me land another job so I could redeem myself in my own eyes, and He answered my prayer by giving me my current job as a writer/PR coordinator for a publicity firm. So far I have been late only once, and I am turning out good copy, after countless notes from bosses and clients. While my batchmates have already gone on study leaves from their prestigious jobs to get their MBAs and PhDs, here I am a mass com undergrad with an entry-level job whose ultimate joy consists of achieving a near-perfect attendance record. Since I’m still new, I can’t even assess my so-called performance. But what the heck, I’ve finally started a sort of career path. Talk about a late bloomer in the corporate jungle.

What about improved financial status or standard of living as a success indicator? My current income doesn’t guarantee me total financial independence from my California-based parents. The eldest of four children, I still live in the original Carmona home in Guadalupe Bliss with my sister and her husband, a male cousin and a female helper, while my high school batchmates already have houses and cars of their own (throw in a beeper, cell phone, laptop, Internet subscription). My ultimate joy in this area consists of being able to give the proper tithe to our church, buy basic personal needs, pay for my lunch at the office and bus fare, and occasionally contribute to the marketing budget at home. Oh, and I almost forgot: I’m assigned to pay for the household’s subscription to the Inquirer.

What about a happy married or home life? Oh, I’ve had my share of serious and non-serious affairs in my teens up to my early 20s but I’ve been unattached since four years ago. My theme song now is Karen Carpenter’s “I Know I Need to be in Love,” which goes on to say: “I know I’ve wasted too much time/I know I’ve asked perfection from a quite imperfect world/and fool enough to think that’s what I’ll find.” I’ve got a pocketful of good intentions but none of them will keep me warm tonight.

While some of my high school batchmates are already married and with children, others are engaged and still others are seriously dating, my ultimate joy as far as this thing goes is (at the risk of sounding like sourgraping) at least being able to come and go anywhere I please, whether it be the mall, art gallery, secondhand bookstore, movie house, Olongapo, Bayombong, Enchanted Kingdom – everywhere! I savor and appreciate my voluntary solitude. Long-term commitment? I guess I’m still not mature enough to handle one, despite my previous passions.

Let’s not even dwell on my so-called contributions to Philippine society because I’ve never had one which would merit mention on the front-page or at least the lifestyle section. Meanwhile, one female batchmate has topped the dentistry board exams (as in No. 1!), another female classmate is now chief editor of a leading business publication, and my best friend is a supervisor at a topnotch accounting firm. I know at least three guys who are already doctors, one guy who is a lawyer at the Supreme Court, and another guy (our valedictorian) who has taken a study leave from his managerial position at a big bank to pursue another degree in a famous American university. (I know he already has an MBA, so this is now his third degree – pardon the pun.)

So it’s been 10 years, and what have I got to show for it?

In a word, nothing. At least not by the usual standards we use to measure a person’s success.

I must have been the quietest person around during the couple of meetings I attended as a member of the homecoming organizing committee. I have in my possession all of my co-members’ impressive calling cards. I can feel the aura of self-confidence and wisdom emanating from their previously clueless high school selves. I quietly revel in their radiance while feeling proud of their achievements. Vicariously I feel I have also succeeded through them.

It’s been a decade, guys, so I’ll be seeing you at the Manila Science auditorium today. If plans don’t change, I’ll be playing sparkling host tonight. All I can offer you is a slightly improved version of the Bless Carmona you knew (and even the descriptive “improved” is open to question in my case, needing several qualifiers). Well, you be the judge.

I may not have much to show for all those years we’ve been apart, but I won’t be ashamed to attend our homecoming because I want to see for myself the way you’ve all turned out. Success indicators or no, I’ll always be proud to be one of you, my bright and beautiful Manila Science High School batchmates.
So you bet your souvenir coffee mug I’ll be there – if only to bask in all that reflected glory.
And of course, to dance to all that new wave music.

Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings, email me here: pilipinasblitz@gmail.com

“A Sampling Of Overseas Filipino Workers 2.0” in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (Sept. 10-16, 2014)

Pilipinasblitz Forever
A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of Sept. 10-16, 2014


First, we answer the question about last week’s creative writing game. We asked which between Stories A (the high school reunion) or B (the poetry contest) is truth and which is fiction. The answer: Story B is the truth. How did you do in figuring it out? Here’s an interesting feedback from one reader: “Blesilda: These are tricky – both are well-written, personalized, and have “larger-than-life” claims, which they support well with many details. If not for the romantic end here, this one feels most authentic and particular. The poetry contest one does have the resonant father angle but is not technically as detailed, or for me, convincing – still I’ll vote for it (because of the ending here, which I hope is true ).” Thanks to Mr. SW for the feedback! You sure got it right. Maybe you’re a father yourself so the father angle in Story B did resonate with you.

To continue with the disclosure, I did win first place in an international poetry contest in 2006 sponsored by the International Society of Poets (ISP). I honestly don’t know if ISP is still in existence because less than a year after I won, the mighty moving spirit behind it, Dr. Len Roberts, he of the multi-awarded poetry volumes and academic inclinations, passed away. Anyway, part of my prize is a book-publishing contract. It’s a good thing that I already have a manuscript to submit, since I’ve been dreaming about publishing my poetry since around 1996, when I was still in the Philippines. It took 10 years for my dream to come true. You can find my poetry book, “A Novice in Altruism and other Poems” at the Arkipelago Bookstore in San Francisco and the Revolution Bookstore in Berkeley. This includes my winning poem, “Villanelle of a Retired Overseas Filipino Worker” on page 64.

Now in honor of Labor Day last Sept. 1, let me tell you some stories of overseas Filipino workers. These are people who are known to me but I will change their names for the sake of their privacy. Anyway, I will just be presenting broad strokes about their lives so that we can get a sense of how diverse their working situations are. I know a couple of San Pedro Elementary School classmates who are in Italy now. Mina is a nurse in Bologna, single and sending several Manila-based nieces and nephews to school. Gabby got married just recently and migrated with his wife to Rome where they both work as engineers. In Zurich, Switzerland, my friend Susan is a number-cruncher/database manager for a certain teaching hospital. In addition to her job, she is managing a household of “boys”: her German husband (also working) and two active kids. Closer to home, there’s Viva who works as an office manager for a Silicon Valley company in San Mateo. After office hours, expect Viva to be in some party scene! There’s Pearl, a single woman in her 50s, a graduate of Economics from the University of the Philippines (UP), now working as a caregiver. Being Kapampangan, she sure whips up one helluva ginataang bola-bola with langka or a viand such as beef stew or pork sinigang. There’s Doc Tommy, my classmate at the UP College of Medicine Class 1994, who is now an infectious diseases specialist-consultant in a NorCal health facility. He says that most of the patients he sees are AIDS patients as part of his advocacy. Another classmate, Doc Sammy, is in Portland, Oregon as a pediatrician. He says that he recently limited his practice to only 0.8 time (i.e., Fridays off) “to prevent early burnout since retirement is still a long way off.” Way to go, Doc Sammy!

My former co-worker in a retirement center, Eduardo, hails from Quezon City and has been in the States since a few months after my own migration in late 2004. Ever since I’ve known him, he has held two jobs at the same time so that he could send a regular remittance to his wife and kids in the Philippines. As soon as he was able to do so, Eduardo petitioned them to join him in Hayward, and now they’re here with him, making him so thankful and happy. On the weekends as he has always done, Eduardo still collects bottles, cans, and plastic containers for selling to recycling centers. He continues to work as a driver for an adult daycare center and as a custodian for another care home. He has diabetes but that doesn’t deter him from working hard.

Another overseas Filipino worker whose story truly touched my heart was Tita Connie’s. She hails from Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, a province south of the Philippines. She migrated to NorCal in 1996 and worked as a caregiver. With her savings from her job, she was able to send all of her four children to school. One is a supervisor for Continental Airlines in Tennessee while also on the Army Reserve, another is working in electronics in Fremont, another one is a CPA, and still another is a farmer and councilman in their barangay in Pagadian. Apart from that, Tita Connie had six other scholars from her hometown who are unrelated to her. These scholars are now all college graduates, a pastor and a motorcycle dealer among them. Furthermore, from her savings she was able to have a couple of sizeable houses constructed on the farmland that she owns. Right now her politician-son and his family live in the older house while one of her scholars and a helper live in the newer house. During Tita Connie’s 60th birthday celebration seven years ago (Dec. 8, 2007), a lot of people took their turn on the stage to pay tribute to the birthday girl for all the good she has contributed to the community. Some of her scholars were also there, saying that if it weren’t for Tita Connie, their dreams for a better life through education would not have come true. Nowadays, Tita Connie at 66 is still working as a caregiver and has no plans of “retiring,” since working keeps her mind and body active. As long as she has the strength and compassion to do her job well, Tita Connie will still be reporting for caregiver duty for quite a long time.

There you have it, snippets about a variety of overseas Filipino workers as they live and work today. Some stories are typical in that you know someone in a similar situation. Some are white-collar or blue-collar, high-end or low-end. Personally, I think this two-point-oh reimagining of the OFW in the 21st century is timeless and relatable, no matter what station in life we may be in.

If you come across my poetry book and turn to “Villanelle of a Retired Overseas Filipino Worker”… well first of all, you must know that villanelles in general tend to be sad one way or another, the way it repeats certain lines like a chant. Villanelle of a retired OFW? Guaranteed to be sad in another context. “Nobody is left for me to astound. / The ship of my heart has run aground” go the last two lines. You don’t know how many have emailed me after I won that ISP contest and told me how they said they could identify with the persona in the poem. All of us, the hardworking and caring OFWs that we are: we are united in heart and mind no matter where we may be in the diaspora. Hopefully we have established loving relationships with family and friends. When we retire someday and find our contemporaries dying one by one, let’s pray that we have stored enough good memories to look back on and sustain us because at some point, memories will be all that we would have. Ain’t that the sobering truth. And if we’re lucky, maybe some love left over.
Please tell me what you think: pilipinasblitz@gmail.com


Dear BISIG* members and supporters:
*Biopsychosocial Support & Interaction Group

By now you have heard of the unfortunate news that the great actor Robin Williams has taken his own life by asphyxiation through hanging. This saddens me to no end because he was one of us, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder aside from battling drug addiction and alcoholism. Robin’s death means that another one of us has succumbed to the most fatal consequence of an untreated mental illness or severe depression in particular: death by suicide.

All of us have cycled through our erratic moods throughout our lives. We’ve been there. We know. But you know what? We can’t presume to know anything about what Robin himself was going through. Each of our agonies is our own. We know well enough not to judge one another as we go through our “dark night(s) of the soul,” for there are many of those nights, indeed.

We’ve been there. We know.

Being depressed, in my personal experience, is being devoid of all feeling. My movements become listless and mechanical. I just want to stay in my room with the curtains drawn. My mind is so slow and uninspired, and there is such a psychic pain that is too deep for words that it cries out for release. When the depression is already this severe, I begin to seriously entertain the thought of ending my life, or as the euphemism goes, “I just want to disappear.”

When I am already at this point, nothing matters anymore. I become blasphemous: I simply don’t care anymore that taking my life would offend a Supreme Being or that taking my life would surely devastate my family and friends. I simply do not care anymore. But deciding to commit suicide is rarely the selfish decision that people with so little understanding consider it to be.

To the person about to commit suicide, what they’re probably thinking is that they don’t want to be a burden to their caregivers anymore so the family will be better off with him/her dead. Other reasons may justify the act in the mind of the afflicted that is already twisted with unbearable pain and despair. In the final analysis, who can ever understand why those “completed suicides” committed the ghastly deed?

Please bear with us.

I wish that people who do not have this terrible affliction (bipolar disorder, major depression, dysthymia, etc.) would begin to understand those of us who have one mental illness or another. Let’s keep the conversation open and loving. Let us be there for one another and PLEASE, remember that there is no shame or blame warranted when it comes to mental illnesses.

And for those of us who are battling depression now, please get help as soon as possible before your depression worsens. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SUFFER THROUGH YOUR DEPRESSION ALONE. Reach out to me, reach out to the group, reach out to your mental health professional, family, and the few friends who really understand you and are able to support you.

We thank God and Goddess for celebrities like Robin Williams for raising our consciousness about such a serious issue. I’m sorry that Robin has to die so that the spotlight can be focused on mental health. But just remember that suicide can also happen to ordinary people “leading lives of quiet desperation.” Let it not be you, let it not be me.

After I got through a very tough depressive period in my life years ago, I realized that hey, life is still worth living. YOUR LIFE IS WORTH LIVING.

Life may be painful sometimes, but it is always, always painfully beautiful.

which god



To which god do I pray to help me remember?

I don’t want to harass, I don’t want to encumber.

Just tell me to which god do I have to surrender

So I could see his face and hear his laughter.

We loved a long time ago somewhere.

Oh! If only I could remember.


To which god do I pray to help me forget

Each shared walkway and sunset,

Little things that caused upset?

I’d rather much remember the better times instead.

So which god will teach me to forget?


To which god do I pray to help me bear the pain

Of broken promises, of dubious gain?

Which god for winning and losing?

Which god for coping and crashing?

Which god for living and dying?

And then you told me to search within

And that it was already mine for the taking.


—–Blesilda Ragasa Carmona