The first five months of 2016 had numerous high points involving the political, the personal, and the fluid region between the two. And because memory is a fragile monster, I am recording them here.
The Philippines Has a New President
On May 9, 2016, Filipinos elected a new president. In an election characterized by the highest voter turnout in Philippine history, Rodrigo Duterte was catapulted to the presidency. President-elect Duterte hails from the south, the part of the country where I was born, raised, and continue to live. For roughly 20 years, he intelligently directed the transformation of Davao City, the largest city in Mindanao, from a war zone to a peaceful, orderly place with a sophisticated 911 system (the only one in the Philippines), an awesome healthcare program called Lingap for zeroing out hospital bills (the only one in the Philippines), and a high-tech mobile-hospital/ambulance the size of a bus (again, the only one in the Philippines). These are all free for the people of Davao City to use. Aside from the three I mentioned, the people of Davao City have many other unique perks, which were not possible elsewhere in the country because local leaders simply won't stop stealing public funds. President-elect Duterte’s effective governance was anchored in and was shaped by the south's bristling bedrock--the region’s violent history whereby on top of the usual petty criminals, there were the occasional bomb-lobbing terrorists, two major secessionist Moro rebel groups, and the Reds. This smacks of a leader so wildly competent that even if he had his hands full for many years, he still succeeded in protecting majority of the people in his city.
This is my only memory of pre-Duterte Davao City: in a bus terminal, my mother was in a tug-of-war with a man trying to steal her purse. The purse was black with a metal handle. I was holding on to her other hand, confused by what was going on. We were poor then. And in Philippine parlance, poor means really poor and every cent counts. My mother couldn’t afford to lose those extra cents, so she held on to her purse. The purse-snatcher eventually gave up and ran away. I also remember how my mother used to travel to Davao City to buy ukay-ukay (used clothes) during the 1980s. She sold them to people in our hometown, Nuro, a sleepy rural village in Maguindanao. Forested areas still bordered the town. Everywhere you look, it was scenic. But that was long before the loggers came. Now I believe the future of my country looks good. It isn't everyday that Filipinos get to elect to the highest seat in the land someone who had decades worth of stellar track record in governance.
Three of My Books Were Released
On the writing front, things have been going quite well. In December 2015, my fourth book, the poetry collection Lifeboat (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015), was released. Reviews for and details about Lifeboat can be found here.
My short story collection, Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), has been reviewed favorably in Electric Literature, Necessary Fiction, San Diego CityBeat, Neon Magazine, and several other nice places.
Over Facebook, I also chatted with grad students earning their MFA from a university in California. They were studying Age of Blight, and the thoughtful questions I fielded brought the kind of soul-searching answers (which I did not articulate, of course, because they weren’t in the spirit of how their questions were framed) about why I write the things I write. I hope the transcript of my exchanges with them would soon be published.
Another short story collection, Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), has just been released. To order a copy directly from the publisher, please go here. This little book's back cover blurb says:
The stories and non-stories in Kristine Ong Muslim’s Butterfly Dream avow mutilation as rebirth, ruin as indestructibility, and safety as an illusion. In “Artificial Life,” a girl is persistent in her belief that her doll will soon come to life. “The Six Mutations of Jerome” documents the grotesque transformations of an everyman named Jerome, while “The Lonely People” follows a group of individuals fleeing from the accoutrements of the modern world as manifested by carnivorous floors and a marauding giant worm. Part travelogue on the vagaries of human consciousness, Butterfly Dream is a glimpse into a reality marred by causal logic and wakefulness.
Butterfly Dream can be ordered bundled with these other lovelies: Quentin S. Crisp's September and Toadhouse's Gone Fishing with Samy Rosenstock.
To collect all Snuggly Slims, consider buying the first two of the series: Divorce Procedures for the Hairdressers of a Metallic and Inconstant Goddess by Justin Isis and A Suite in Four Windows by David Rix.
LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, whose poetry section I curate and edit, has released its sixth issue and has put up a Patreon page for supporters.
I co-edited with Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Berit Ellingsen, Arley Sorg, Grace L. Dillon, and Sunil Patel another installment to the hugely popular Destroy series from Lightspeed Magazine. Here's the full lineup for People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction. In June, an excerpt from the longer fiction section, Nick Tchan's "Salto Moral," will be featured in iO9's LIGHTSPEED Presents.
I was also guest reader for SmokeLong Quarterly during the period April 18-24, 2016. There were 84 submissions. I whittled them down to 15 maybes, shortlisted 5, chose 3. By way of an interview, Megan Giddings gave me an opportunity to talk about Age of Blight.
Recently Published Work and Future Projects
My poems were in these gorgeous anthologies:
Some of my poems were part of Sustaining the Archipelago: An Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2016). I'm particularly excited about this book as it is the first-ever ecopoetics anthology in the Philippines. So, I interviewed Rina Garcia Chua, editor of Sustaining the Archipelago, for the Chicago Review of Books.
A Czech translation of my short story, "B is for Body," will soon be featured in Plav, thanks to Ambassador Jaroslav Olša, Jr., who is at the forefront of this campaign.
The Curator published the epistolary piece, "Dear M," which was the opening act for my forthcoming poetry collection, Black Arcadia, with the University of the Philippines Press.
The 82nd issue of The Collagist featured a little tale I wrote called "Genesis." It was spurred by Conchitina Cruz's stirring Dark Hours, where place is used to either call up historical events or to wield as one would a blunt tool for mucking up memory.
I am working on a short story to be published in Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation, an anthology from Upper Rubber Boot Books. It is edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Wieland. Release schedule is spring 2017. Other contracted authors for Sunvault are Nisi Shawl, A.C. Wise, and Daniel José Older.
Another in-progress piece is a long personal essay that touches on psychogeography, a little bit about Maguindanao-specific genius loci, and how Maguindanao folklore/superstition has impacted my writing. While mulling over how to go about writing the essay, I discovered an element that's common in many of my stories. They feature variations of the Jungian child archetype. The archetypal child figures in 10 out of the 16 stories in Age of Blight. In Butterfly Dream, the count is four out of eight stories. This wasn't planned. I may be unconsciously compensating for or repressing something. The mind is an infinitely adaptable beast. I might realize the rationale behind it someday. Anyway, the essay will appear in a John-Reppion-edited anthology Spirits of Place. Contributors include Iain Sinclair, Alan Moore, and Warren Ellis.
Meditations of a Beast
Age of Blight
A Roomful of Machines
We Bury the Landscape